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.”

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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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A biting cold wind whipped around the corner of East Jefferson and Mt. Elliot. The boy wrapped his arms more tightly around his ribs. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to ignore cramps that had taken up residence in the muscles of his hips and legs. He stared at the Walgreens building across the street.

People pointedly avoided him as they stepped around his position. He was aware of it, but didn’t have the energy to stare at them. Nor did he have the desire. Dead people didn’t interact with the living, so why should he pay them any mind?

How long had it been? He wasn’t sure how many times night had fallen, how many mornings had come, and how many yesterdays there were. 

The pedestrian light changed and people brushed past him to cross the avenue. It took him a moment to remember how to move his feet. Halfway across, the yellow warning started. He was not able to move as fast as it suggested. He was still a car’s length from the curb when the light flashed, “Wait.”

He stopped.

A driver honked.

He looked up. Was the driver looking for a boy?

The driver hit the dash with his hand, and thrust his middle finger into the air. He honked his horn two more times and revved his engine.

The boy put one foot in front of the other. It was the best he could do.  

When he reached the sidewalk, the man honked again. His tires squealed as he peeled away.

The boy stumbled onto the curb and lurched toward the Walgreens building. He hesitated at the door. Was this the best choice? He had heard that there was a man here who always wore a cobalt tie on the days he was looking for someone. He paid really well, but he would probably want more than a hand job. Soul sapped by the stress of life on the streets, and a beating he had survived, he would probably do whatever the man asked.

He shouldered the door and kept his head down. Edging toward the left row of shelves, he glanced quickly at the cashier’s counter to see if the person there noticed him. She was staring off into space, seemingly unaware of anyone. As fast as he could manage, he hid behind the first shelf, just out of her sight.

His heart was in his throat. God, this was a stupid idea. He could slip out again and take his chances on the avenue.

“Can I help you?” said a man to his right. He was dressed in a hoodie with a ripped front pocket; his jeans had big holes at the knees and rode low on his hips. His runners were impressive and did not match the rest of his outfit.

“Can you see me?” said the boy.

“Are you high on something?” said the man in the hoodie.

“Do you work here?” said the boy. He was looking for the man in the cobalt tie.

“Sure,” said the man. He was not wearing a nametag.

The boy shook his head and backed away from him. He turned and headed toward the back of the store. When he glanced back toward the man in the hoodie, he was playing with his phone. Perhaps aware that someone was observing, he looked up and caught the boy’s eye.

Shit, shit, shit. This was a stupid idea.

On the shelf in front of him was a display of Nabisco’s Fig Newtons. His stomach suddenly cramped with hunger. Did dead men feel hunger? He hesitated a moment trying to remember why he had come into the store. It must have been for food. He grabbed a package and ripped it open.

The man in the hoodie moved closer. He stood quietly in the aisle perusing shaving supplies. When he looked up, he caught the boy’s eyes. Once again, he smiled. 

Mouth full of fig cakes, the boy moved farther into the store. The pharmacy area was empty. Beyond that was a section filled with fishing gear. He stuffed one more fig cake into his mouth and shoved the partially emptied package into his pants. Then he covered it with his shirt and went toward the fishing supplies.

From behind him, someone said, “Excuse me.”

The boy looked up. A thin man in a silver suit with a crooked cobalt tie leaned against the counter of the pharmacy, arms crossed, staring at him.

Oh, yeah. He was looking for a man with a tie.

“Did you pay for that?” The man with the tie spoke quietly.

“Pay for what?” said the boy.

“The Fig Newtons,” said the man. He uncrossed his arms and disappeared for a second. Then he came through a door labeled ‘Employees Only.’ He stepped close. He carefully skimmed his hand over the boy’s torso to the hem of his shirt. Then he pulled it up. “These,” he said. “Have you paid for them?”

“N, n, not yet,” the boy stammered.

“I see.” said the man. “I can help you with that.” As he said it, he lowered the boy’s shirt, letting his fingers gently skim the bruised skin beneath it. “I can help with those, too.”

The boy backed up one step, but the man reached out and wrapped his long, graceful fingers around his wrist. He pulled the boy close enough to whisper, “I pay very well.”

The boy shivered as the man placed a foot in the space between his feet and scooted his knee up his thigh. His cobalt tie tickled his arm where it brushed against it. He leaned into the boy and nipped his ear.

The boy shrank from the touch, but he didn’t step away. He needed food. He needed a warm place to stay. He needed someplace safe where he didn’t have to keep watch for predators.

Behind the man in the cobalt tie, the man in the hoodie stepped into view. “Detroit Police,” he said, flashing a badge that had been hidden under his sweatshirt.

The boy pulled away from the man in the silver suit and tried to run, but he tripped. While he was down, the man in the hoodie cuffed the man in the silver suit. “You two are under arrest for solicitation and prostitution.”

Another man, dressed in uniform, pulled the boy off the floor. He sneered at his face and said, “You like it rough, huh?”

The man in the silver suit swooned.

“Shit,” said the officer in the hoodie. He slapped the suited man’s cheek until he got a reaction.

The uniformed officer patted down the boy and found the Fig Newtons. “Looks like we’re charging you with shoplifting as well,” he said, jerking on the zip ties around the boy’s wrists.

“Hey, careful with that one,” said the officer in the hoodie. “He may be a minor.”

“Well, wouldn’t that be dandy for you,” said the uniformed officer to the boy, but he was gentle as he hauled him out of the store and into the back of his squad car.

Marcus Balmario sat at the counter mulling over the cases he and Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson were working. It was something to do while he waited for the two squads bringing in the prostitution and solicitation cases. The first was a younger man, the second, from his description, was none other than Rodney Heathe. Marcus had a gut feeling that no matter what happened in the next nine hours, today was a win if they could slam cell doors on that man.

Benny Brown strode in dressed in his favorite hoodie, the one he wore undercover all the time. It was a miracle the crooks in Detroit didn’t recognize him by now. He had with him a dapper man dressed in a silver suit accented with a cobalt tie.

“Well, well, well,” said Marcus. “Mr. Heathe. Here you are again.”

Benny said, “We may have a child prostitution case on our hands. Smith is worried about bringing the other one in here. He’s wondering if he should just head over to the hospital.”

Marcus stepped up to Heathe and looked him up and down. He smiled. “Book him.” Then he strode out the door to check on the other detainee.

The uniformed officer was leaning against the roof of his cruiser with one arm. With the other hand, he held the back passenger door open, leaning in toward the person in his backseat cage. He looked up and nodded to Marcus when he stepped out of the building. Then he said, “This one was trembling when I cuffed his hands behind him, sir. Now he’s shaking down to his bones and breathing funny. I’m worried.”

Balmario took his place at the open door and looked at the passenger. His face was a battleground. His gut told him he was looking at a child if fifteen – maybe sixteen years old. “What’s your name, son,” he said softly.

The boy lifted his head, but he was too shaky to look directly at him.

“Are you on something?” said Balmario.

The boy shook his head no and lowered his gaze to his lap.

Balmario ducked into the back seat and propped himself on a knee to get low enough to catch his young prisoner’s eyes. “What’s your name?”

The boy hiccoughed, trying to catch his breath.

Balmario backed out of the vehicle and said, “Get a camera and a fingerprint kit. We’ll start booking here and finish at the hospital. His face looks like someone used him as a punching bag.”

The boy shuddered.

“I know, son. We’re going to take a couple of pictures and get your prints. Then we’ll go to the hospital, probably take more pictures when we clean you up. I want to have a doctor look at those contusions on your face.”

The next breath that the boy took was a sob. Marcus patted his knee.

The boy flinched.

Balmario uttered quietly, “Damn.” Then he backed off and reassured the boy. “We’ll be quick about it.”

Twenty minutes later, Balmario told his officer, “I’ll drive him. You get on those fingerprints. I want to know if this one is in the system as soon as possible.” He was getting a hunch about this boy. The hair color and height matched the description, but he didn’t want to sound the alarm until he knew if he was right, and the boy had no ID and wasn’t speaking to him.

In the hospital, Marcus Balmario stayed with him as witness for the exams but also for comfort. The boy stared into an abyss, shivering while a photographer recorded his injuries. Balmario had never seen such deep contusions. How was this kid alive? He bagged the boy’s clothes. Then he tied his hospital gown so he was fully covered, and helped him sit on the exam table. 

A male nurse from Special Services stepped into the room. “I am here for the forensics exam.”

The boy looked at Balmario with big eyes, eyes that said, “I’ve been through enough already. Can’t you stop this?” His shivering intensified.

Balmario shook his head. “It’s protocol. I will be just outside the door.

When done, the Special Services nurse joined Balmario in the hall. He said, “I see no indication that he has been raped. I took samples anyway. He wouldn’t tell me who beat him or why. He didn’t say anything at all. He just stared at me with those big, sad eyes. I’ll set up Protective Services. Do we know who he is?”

“I’m waiting on fingerprints.”

“Okay. Well, that one cannot go back to his family until we clear them.”

“You’ve seen the FBI BOLO about Inspector Tyler’s son?”

“The runaway? You think that’s who this is?”

Balmario put his hands up. “I hope to God not, but word cannot get out about any of it. We have this kid’s solicitor in booking right now. Jackson Tyler cannot get wind of this until I can confirm my hunch.”

“Keep me in the loop.” He handed Balmario his card.

“I will.” Balmario handed the nurse his.

Balmario opened the door for a second nurse who was entering to start IV’s. He asked her, “Are you testing for drugs?”

She said, “Yes. We are following all the protocols. We’ll be taking him to get X-rays as soon as we have him set up. Has his family been notified? We’ll need signatures.”

“Family has not been determined yet. I’d like to stay with him if I may. Social Services will sign if necessary.”

“Of course.” She held the door with her back, letting him enter first.

While the boy was getting X-rays, Balmario’s phone buzzed. “Benny, what do ya’ got?”

“It’s what you got, man. Jonathan Tyler.”

“Shit,” said Marcus. “Has Tyler been notified?”

“Chief’s on her way to pick him up. No way we’re letting him in here with Heathe.”

“If it’s any consolation, Jon wasn’t raped.”

“Well, that’s one bit of good news then. I’ll pass the word.”

Marcus rubbed his forehead. “ETA on Tyler?”

“Twenty, at most, I’d say. Chief Thompson flew out of here.”

“Got it. I’ll keep an eye.”

“Good. See ya,” said Benny.

“Yeah,” said Balmario. He walked up to Registration and flashed his badge to move forward to the counter. “Anyway I can get word to the folks inside with the boy I brought in?”


“Tell them his name is Jon Tyler, and his father is on his way.”

“Got it.” She finished scrawling the information.

“How long will he be in there?”

“I don’t know.”

“I am going to go to the main reception area to wait for his father. Please have them call me as soon as he is done in there.” He handed over his card.

“I will.”

“Thank you.”

Balmario hoped to meet Jack at the door and fill him in before he saw his brutalized son. He sure as hell would want some warning if the kid was his.


(Author’s Note: Reading about life on the street is not for the faint or heart. You have been duly warned.)


Jackson Tyler often woke disoriented and unsure of reality. It’s just the way his life was. Sometimes his mind focused on reality, sometimes it focused elsewhere. Right now, it was elsewhere. He suspected his host was his son, Jonathan; that this weird dreamscape superimposing the breakfast in front of him was Jon’s actual landscape: dark alleys, hulking dumpsters, street people, and last night a sexual encounter he prayed was his own fantasy about his partner overlaid onto the worry about his son. His right hand still tingled as if he had done the deed himself.

With that hand, he dipped a piece of toast in his second cup of coffee. His phone buzzed in the distance. He threw the toast onto the table and ran to get it from the bedside table where he’d left it. He missed the call, but a text buzzed through. It was from Maureen.

Officers pursued teen. Pulled prints. Matched Jon. Presumed alive & hiding in the city. Alive, Jack.

He punched in her number.

She answered, “Thompson.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“We have people on the street actively looking. Jack, we’ll find him. Keep your phone with you.”

“Thank you,” he said, again.

She clicked off.

Jon grabbed food from a breakfast bar on the Riverwalk. He had money left for a thrift shop purchase. He needed a jacket. He stayed in shadows when he could, dipped into alcoves to watch traffic, and tried to stay alert. Running into a Morelli was a death sentence. Relief washed over him when he stepped through the door of the thrift shop with its jumbled shelves and friendly looking people. He found a jacket right away that fit him. He also bought a knit hat that could fold down over his ears at night. An older woman found a fifty-cent sale on a pair of mittens for him that coincidently matched the hat.

After his purchases, he still had enough money for snacks, but he needed more for a good meal. He couldn’t take a chance at any of the soup kitchens, because his picture was plastered on the walls.

However, what he needed to do to earn money didn’t seem like a daylight activity. So, he wandered for the rest of the day, sticking to shadows and studying people. Lincoln came often to his mind. He spoke as if offering sexual favors was an ideal way to make money. Jon wished he were here so he could learn more from him. His death was a heavy weight to bear. Jon had no illusions about how he died. It wasn’t from a heart attack. The simple fact was that he died from the punishment for skimming money. Jon had no desire to go the same way, face down on the filthy cement with his hole reamed by a dozen brutal men. Lincoln’s problem was that he worked for a pimp. Jon planned to be his own man. All he had to do now was to figure out where sex workers plied their trade when the sun set.

By the time the sun went down, the only people Jon passed were a couple of panhandlers. Where did people congregate to solicit sex? There had to be a district somewhere that folks felt safe enough to advertise their talents.

His wanderings took him back to the soup kitchen where he’d first discovered that the FBI had plastered posters with his face all over the walls inside and out. By chance, he saw the group of three colorfully dressed people that had stood behind him in line yesterday. They were going in to the building, presumably for dinner. He waited outside for them to leave the kitchen, then, quietly followed them.

After traversing one block, the tallest, a young man dressed in flowing silk tie-dye turned and said to him, “Are you following us Young Warrior?”

Jon froze.

The young man laughed. “We have ourselves a shadow,” he said to his fellow walkers.

The other two turned as one and smiled at him. A short, stocky boy with a wolfish grin said, “I remember you. You stood in front of us in line yesterday.”

Jon took a step toward them and stopped.

“So, come on,” said the first young man. “You might as well hang for now. It’s pretty clear you don’t have a damn clue what you are about.” He introduced himself as Sparkle.

The one that grinned was aptly named Smiley, and the other was Girlie, though Jon couldn’t decide whether Girlie was male or female. Jon introduced himself as Sawyer, because by now he was used to responding to it.

Jon told them about his experience the night before and the twenty dollars he had made.

“Damn, girl,” said Girlie, which may have been why he or she was so named. “That’s a lot. Most I ever made was twelve, and that was because the guy gave me a twenty percent tip.”

Jon asked, “Do you work for yourselves or for someone?”

“No one works for themselves, gorgeous,” said Smiley.

Jon told them Lincoln’s story and why he wanted to. Sparkle sniveled and tears ran down his face. “Poor Lincoln. We all hoped he’d be okay when Charlie snapped him up. But then, Alles Santorini came along, and we worried. Rightly so, I guess,” he said with a sob.

“I don’t know if any of them are alive. Rat Snatcher told me to run, and I did. I heard gunshots, but I…I just don’t know.”

“Rat Snatcher watched out for you,” crooned Smiley. He reached out and fingered a lock of hair that was peeking from under Jon’s knit cap. He smoothed it behind Jon’s ear. “Well, you need to learn the trade, then,” he said. “You hang with us, tonight.”

“Are you sure?” said Jon.

“Absolutely,” they chorused.

“A friend of Lincoln’s is a friend of ours,” said Sparkle.

The three friends had a car. They drove north to the University and then turned east, explaining that Downtown was too heavily policed to ply the trade there anymore. They had better luck here, where the lines between city and suburbia were fuzzy. After a couple of hours, Jon wondered where he got the idea that he could make a sizable amount of money doing this? As soon as he thought it, he earned ten dollars for a quick ‘handy.’ Ten dollars wasn’t bad for a few minutes of effort.

Sparkle threw him at two women who wanted to finger each other while watching him jerk off. He earned ten dollars from each of them and had the thrill of his life. He smiled at his money and stuffed it into his wallet. He now had thirty dollars, which seemed like a lot considering that physical effort was minimal and pleasurable.

The trio then decided to move on, and because Jon was having luck with that corner, they wished him luck and left to pursue their business elsewhere. His business as a self-employed man slowed down. It was possible that a corner was good for only a couple of tricks. Maybe this was part of the lesson he had to learn. The others had each worked a couple of johns and then moved on. All totaled, that was quite a lot of business for that one corner. Besides, in his opinion, three was already a crowd. They had graciously added him as a fourth. He didn’t blame them for leaving.

He was about to give up. Thirty dollars would get him through tomorrow. As he stepped away from the corner, a silver CT-6 rolled up and parked in front of him. Jon was a half inch shy of six feet tall, but the man who got out of the black sedan was taller by at least two inches. Wearing a plaid button down and jeans, he grabbed Jon’s upper arm with a grip of iron.

“Ow,” said Jon.

“Shut up, bitch,” said the man. He threw Jon into the back seat of the sedan. 

Jon tried the door. Childproof locks prevented him from opening it.

The man sat behind the wheel and slammed the front door. As he engaged the engine, Jon jerked the back door again. The man glared at him in the mirror as he gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb.

Jon trembled in the back seat with eyes wide open, watching the city roll past. “Where are you taking me?” he asked, in a voice that was not as deep or mature as he would have liked.

“You’ll see when we get there,” said the man.

The tone in the man’s voice set off louder warning bells. “What will we be doing?”

“You’ll see soon enough.”

Terror crawled into Jon’s throat. His voice cracked when he screamed, “Let me out. I don’t want to work for you.”

“You ain’t got a choice, bitch.”

Jon jerked the handle on the back door, even though he knew the safety lock was engaged. He tried opening the window, but it was inoperable as well.

Just when his panic was big enough for him to jump into the front seat and take his chances with the driver, the man pulled into a lot in front of a small auto body shop.

Jon prepared to run as soon as the door opened.

The man got out of his seat and slammed the front door in one fluid motion. When he opened the back door, he must have been ready for Jon’s reaction, because as Jon flew out the door, the man grabbed and jerked his left arm. A shout of pain ripped from his throat and then he fell hard onto his butt in front of the man’s boots. The man hauled Jon to his feet and marched him into the garage, which surprisingly didn’t have any cars in it even though it was lit with flood lights across the ceiling.

A man who was taller than the one that had a vice grip on his arm, stepped out of the office. He seemed familiar, and Jon’s memory flashed on the confrontation he’d witnessed between Marchesi and the Morelli brothers. He couldn’t help gasping.

“Who’s the tough guy, now?” sneered the taller man. “You think you can work one of my corners for free?”

“What?” Jon gulped. “What are you talking about?”

The man swung his hand, using the force of his entire arm to backhand Jon’s face.

Jon flew, landing flat against the filthy garage floor.

“I don’t take kindly to fresh meat comin’ in here thinkin’ they can take over my territory. You owe me.”

“What are you saying?” Jon didn’t want to snivel, but that’s how the question flowed past his lips. In his mind, Alles was shaking his head and saying, “Topino. What did you get yourself into?”

Alles was dead. This man and his brother killed him. They probably killed Charlie and Evan, too. For all Jon knew, Rat Snatcher and Hawg were dead as well, and now he was going to join them. They’d find his body in the river, and his father would be told. He would probably have to identify him. Would Jack be sad?

“Check him for money,” the man said to the driver.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Morelli,” said the man in the plaid shirt.

Morelli. The man in plaid confirmed his worst fear. Jon lay on the cement, unresponsive as the man in plaid emptied his pockets. He found Jon’s wallet and threw it at Morelli.

Morelli took the money. Then he said, “What have we here?” He had found Jon’s ID. “Says here, you go to school in Stockton, California.” He kicked Jon’s hip viciously. The toe of his boot was sharp, and Jon barely heard him say, “You ain’t in Stockton no more,” because the sudden pain took all his attention.

“Auntie Em, Auntie Em,” chided the man in the plaid shirt.

“Teach him a lesson, then throw him in the garbage. A truck will pick up the body for us in the morning.”

So, he was dead. Would his parents, all three of them, miss him when he was gone? Jon looked out the door, calculating his chance to make one last, mad dash for it. A short, stocky kid leaned against the sill. When he noticed Jon staring at him, he grinned. His big, toothy smile gleamed in the glare of the flood lights. Smiley.

The driver grabbed Jon’s aching arm and dragged him toward a door at the back of the garage. Jon scrabbled to get his feet under him, but the man’s strides were swift and long. His spine scraped against the cement, and a flare of burning pain made him woozy. The best he could do was a one-legged kick against the floor, which lifted his body long enough for cool air to sooth his raw skin each time he managed it. The relief from the burn helped him focus. 

Outside the man dropped him.

Jon pushed himself up against the wall. He faced the man and crouched into first position, ready for whatever the man threw at him. He didn’t expect the strike from above as the man jumped up and came down double fisted on his left shoulder. Jon crumpled to the ground.

The man hauled him up and slammed him against the wall. Then the punches kept striking, one after the other until Jon could no longer catch his breath without sniffing blood into his sinuses. The man didn’t stop. He pounded Jon’s ribs and stomach until he couldn’t catch his breath. When Jon fell to the ground, the man savagely kicked him repeatedly.

Barely conscious, Jon was aware of flopping over the man’s shoulder. He could see sidewalk flow past as one foot and then the other heeled into view. The surface of his boot was weirdly reflective, and one drop of blood splattered onto it as the foot passed beneath Jon’s face. Then his vision blacked out.

He was aware of falling, of hitting cardboard, empty cans, and something wet and squishy. Rubber slammed against metal. There was sudden, muffled quiet. He was thankful when he heard the man walk away.

Jon lay in the dark on a bed of trash, wondering if consciousness continued after death. He didn’t believe so before now, but he didn’t see how he could have survived that beating. Time passed. Jon slept and woke, and then slept again.

Beep, beep, beep. The vibrations of a large garbage truck roused him. Beep, beep, beep. The signal was infinitesimally louder with each beep. He needed to sit up. More than that, he needed to climb out of this dark cave.

He felt more than heard the claws bump against the dumpster. It was enough to galvanize his resolve. If he was going to live, he had to leave, now. He pushed on the lid and grabbed the edge of the dumpster. With sudden strength, he pulled and slid through the opening between lid and lip. He fell onto dirt as the great truck lifted the big, metal canister over a gaping maw in its side and shook it.

He limped away from the truck and the dumpster, but not fast enough to avoid the earthquake under his feet when the truck dropped the heavy can back onto the ground. Not fast enough to avoid the small pebbles thrown at him by the truck operator as he hollered, “Get the hell outta here, you filthy vagrant.”

He stopped on the corner, clutching his ribs and peering at the city around him. He had no idea where he was. There was a vacant lot across the street, though, with a small scraggly tree. He stumbled across the pavement, over the sidewalk, and into the empty lot. He sank to the ground. It was all he was capable of for now.

Trial and Error

(Author’s Note: Warning, warning. Strong sexual content. Do not read if that offends you. You can contact me with a note at the bottom of this blog to get a synopsis, if you want to avoid graphic content.)

Jack gazed out the window in Emilia Rodriguez’s apartment. She was another casualty of this weird, convoluted convergence of cases. Emilia, stressed to near hysteria on the night of the miscarriage and involved with factions addicted to vengeance, undoubtedly suspected that the birth would be fatal. Had she guessed that it would kill the mother also? Had she suspected her own demise? Is that why she chased Sawyer out the window with the evidence? Was she convinced that the people knocking might kill him as well? He couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to experience someone else’s death as if it was his own.

He shook the dream from his mind. He didn’t question the Morellis’ involvement. There was just no proof. Even if the DNA from hair follicles tied mother to baby, there was no proof that she was a Morelli. There was only his story, and that was nothing substantial. There was no case. As usual. What the hell good was he?

CSI had found multiple fingerprints on the window. There was enough detail for a clear comparison. He had called his ex-wife for copies of his son’s prints, made with a kit she ordered from the National Child ID program that she had stuck in his keepsake book. She had sent them within minutes. It was just a matter of time now as AIFIS compared the prints to a national database, and the shop techs compared them to the ones Jonathan’s mother had sent.

CSI technicians were packing up their equipment. There was nothing more they could do in Emilia’s flat.

The young tech he was working with said, “Sir, would you like to talk about it?”

He turned his attention from the window and directed at her. What could he say that would not sound completely insane?

Her phone buzzed. She listened a moment, nodding and mumbling affirmative. Then, she hung up. Her jaw was clenched, her fingers fisted and then relaxed.

He said, “No match?”

“Not on AIFIS, sir. But, the prints your wife sent….”

Jack’s knees folded, and he sat hard onto the bed. It bounced a couple of times.

She said, “Sir?”

He stared at the floor, but in reality, he saw nothing. The strings in his heart, the strong cords that bound him to the people he loved, tangled and twisted into a hard knot that was difficult to breathe around. “Jonathan, Jonathan. What the hell have you done?”

Jonathan wandered most of the day, staying close to buildings to take advantage of shadows. As the sun fell, he stopped across the street from Wahlburgers. Two people were panhandling next to it. He sat in the shadow and watched as they begged for money. One person stopped to throw a couple of bills at the first person. The second he ignored, just like the rest of the people who scuttled past, avoiding the predicament as best they could. What a futile way to make money.

Two people walked past Jonathan on his side of the street. The second threw a fiver at his feet.

“Uh, sir? You dropped this?” he said.

“No, son, I didn’t. Go buy yourself a sandwich.” Then he walked on.

“Well,” said Jon, shocked. “Thank you,” he yelled after the man. In the next three minutes, two more people threw dollar bills at him. Each time it surprised him and each time he managed to croak out, “Thank you.”

After two more people walked past, an elderly woman with a big purse stopped in front of him. He prepared himself for a chastising.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

He automatically said, “Sawyer.”

“As in Tom? By Samuel Clemens?” she said.

He nodded.

“Then, I am sure that is not your real name, is it?”

He looked at her and smiled weakly.

She opened her big purse and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “There is a thrift shop two blocks from here.” She pointed behind her. “I just dropped off some old jackets. Buy yourself a coat, young man.” She walked on.

Jon stood and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. He carefully tucked the bills next to the three dollars he had left. He did need a coat. His was in the back of Rat’s van. Right now, though, he needed food. Wahlburgers looked like a safe place to eat, and it wasn’t crowded.

As he neared the restaurant, a man ran up behind him and pushed him into the wall. As the man twirled around him, Jon caught a glimpse of his wallet in the man’s hand. “Hey. Hey, that’s mine,” he shouted.

The man took off running. Jon ran after him.

The man dashed down a side street. As he passed a small, garbage bin, he threw Jon’s wallet into the air behind him. It landed on the lip of the bin and then fell into it. The man turned left at the end of the alley and was gone.

Jon peered over the rim. Thankfully, the bin was empty except for a sheaf of cardboard. His wallet lay open next to it. Jon leaned into the bin and retrieved it. His money and the letter from his father were gone. His ID was still in place.  

There was no point staying here. He slumped against the wall and covered his face in his hands. He really wanted to eat, but without money….

This adventure had been his choice. He wiped the tears from his eyes and looked around. He dusted off his pants and wandered to the back of the restaurant. The establishment had garbage bins locked behind a chain link fence. Who locked up garbage?  

He decided to sit in the shadow where he sat before, across the street. Maybe the evening crowd would throw money at him.  

No one stopped. He sighed. It was time to hunt for a food kitchen.

He headed toward the thrift shop, which seemed a likely place to connect with others needing a helping hand. He was right. Next to the thrift shop was a building marked St. John’s House of Rest. The doors weren’t open, but there was a small line of people against the wall waiting. He stood at the end of it. Three colorfully dressed people got into line behind him. They jostled each other and laughed. His ears perked up when he heard one of them say, “He paid fifty dollars just to get a stiffy. He didn’t want to take it all the way.”

“I’ve never heard of that,” said another one.

The people behind him reminded him of Lincoln. Eager to work the MMA meet, he promised it was worth it for the money. When he and Rat tended Lincoln’s body, Rat had confirmed there was a lot of money to be made working the ‘corners.’ At the meet, he had handed Jon a hundred dollar bill which Jon used to impress Marchesi. Jon’s story was that he hooked up with the man whose suit he ruined with spilled drinks. When he gave Marchesi the money, he claimed, “Blowjob.” Neither Charlie, Hawg, the cook, nor Rat batted an eye. A hundred dollars for a blowjob was unimaginable. Was it something he could do? He just didn’t roll that way. However, he couldn’t imagine doing a woman either.

What he could imagine was a hand job. As a freshman at Stagg High School, he had witnessed a couple of the football jocks at school giving each other a hand job. He was shocked, not by the act itself, but because they were touching each other. He and Rollo, his best friend back home, had whacked off together a couple of times, but sleeping bags covered them, and they didn’t touch each other, so he knew what to do. How much money he could get for that was the question. 

His ears perked up, but the conversation of the people behind him had moved on. One of their friends had signed up for business classes at Wayne County Community College. He snorted. He guessed business classes would be helpful in the ‘profession.’

As he sat down at a table to eat the warm meal handed him, he looked at the art on the wall. Most of it was poster work, inviting folks to this or that prayer meeting. One caught his eye. It was a picture of his face on an FBI flyer.

He crouched over his food and shoveled it in. It took him less than two minutes, by his reckoning, to wolf it down. When he returned his tray, he averted his eyes. He couldn’t fly out of there fast enough. To his horror, he noticed that there were flyers posted outside as well. Shit, shit, shit. Why didn’t he notice that before he walked inside?

He ducked into an alley and started walking. Discovering that he was close to the alley near the fountain, he hastened his speed, hoping that his place by the dumpster was free.

Before he got there, a car pulled up alongside him. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the passenger side window rolled down. Dressed in a button down shirt opened at the collar, the driver, a grey haired man who was leaning across the passenger seat,  said, “Hey, baby. Are you working tonight?”

Jon looked at him, and pointed to himself.

“Got twenty dollars for a quick hand job,” said the man.

Of course the universe would gift him. He had practically asked for it. “Sh-sh-sure,” said Jon.

The man leaned across the passenger seat and unlocked the door.

Was he going to do this? Twenty dollars could pay for a coat and another meal tomorrow. He jerked open the door and climbed in.

The man drove another block until he found a parking place protected from streetlights. He set his keys on the dash, pushed his seat back so he could stretch out, and slid open his zipper. “Pull it out,” he said to Jon.

Jon was sure his eyes betrayed his horror, but the man had leaned back and wasn’t watching him. Jon slipped his fingers into the pocket of the man’s whitey tighties and curled them around his floppy organ. He felt a flash of fear. The man was old. What if he broke it?

“Well, what are you waiting for?” said the man. “I’m paying you to get the damn thing going.”

Jon pulled the penis out and wrapped his fingers around it. Then he started pumping it as if it was his own. Nothing happened.

“Come on, kid. Get going. You gotta squeeze the old thing to wake it up.”

Oh god. Jon squeezed. It jerked to life. As the organ stiffened, Jon was shocked at how the slack skin filled out as he ran his hand up and down the shaft. When the skin was taught against firm muscle beneath it, it felt like silk slipping through his fingers.

He almost stopped at the shock of it. When he stroked himself, he never paid attention to the sensations in his hand. He was too intent on the rising heat of the volcano within.

The old guy started grunting, “Come on, come on, come on.” He bucked his hips, and his spunk drooled over Jon’s hand. Jon averted his face. If he couldn’t see it, he could pretend it was something other than another man’s jizz.

The man fell back into his seat, slack and silent.

Jon stared at his sticky hand. He tried wiping it off on the floor mat at his feet, but that didn’t get rid of it.

The man snorted awake, gave Jon a stiff, new twenty and a pat on his cheek. Then he stuffed his gear back into his pants, zipped himself in, and told Jon, “Get the hell out.”

Jon stumbled over the curb and backed away from the vehicle, clutching the twenty in his clean hand. His soiled hand, like a foreign appendage he didn’t recognize, was balled up, held at an odd angle away from his body so it wouldn’t accidentally touch him anywhere.

The man gunned his car as he speeded away, never once looking back at him.

Jon shoved the twenty-dollar bill into the front pocket of his jeans, jamming it into the bottom as best he could. All he could think about was washing his hand. However, he wasn’t dying, he wasn’t getting sick. He wasn’t sorry. He had money. He scurried to the drinking fountain to wash his hand.

Holding the spigot in his clean hand, he let cool water rush over his tainted hand. He stopped after humming all of “Happy Birthday” twice and scrubbed his hands together. Then he wiped them on his pants, and for good measure, held open the spigot while he rinsed off the memory of pleasuring a man other than himself for the first time in his life.

He didn’t see the policemen until it was almost too late. He looked up briefly and saw the officer in the passenger seat step out of the marked vehicle. The officer looked at him squarely in the eye. Jon backed up two steps, staring back, and then turned and ran.

“Hey, stop,” yelled the officer. Jon heard a car door slam behind him and knew the officer’s partner had joined in the chase. Jon didn’t stop running for blocks.

When he stopped to catch his breath, he did not see or hear his pursuers. He couldn’t go back to his alley. Lost and tired, he wandered. He wandered until he was standing on the corner where it all started, across from Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The building was dark. The business sign was off. Yellow police tape criss-crossed the door and the windows. He wandered to the alley behind the building. Tape cordoned off both ends. He slipped under it.

Huddled in the corner between the staircase and the back wall, and shivered to sleep.

And Found

(Author’s Note: You have not missed a chapter. Due to global warming and fires in Northern California, I did not post last week.)

Anger tastes metallic, thought Jack. He understood why he was sent home, but at home didn’t ease the terror he felt for his son or the anger with the FBI and its machinations. At home, he wasn’t Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler. He was Dad, a scared shitless dad, a dad who had seen the kinds of bad things that happened to runaway teens too many times.

His phone buzzed against his thigh. His little toe kicked the solid foot of the couch when he jumped at the sensation.   

Struggling to pull his phone from his pocket while hopping on one foot, Jack prayed it was his son, Jonathan.

Instead, it was Chief Thompson. She had texted, “Jack, meet us at Emilia Rodriguez’s apartment, ASAP.”

He gathered strength to type back the one question he couldn’t voice, the one that was foremost in his mind. “Did you find Jon?”

Her response was immediate, “No. This is about that dream you had.” An address followed.

“Weird,” he said when he saw it. He knew the address. Why? When had he been there and for what reason?

He rested the phone against his forehead, trying to gather thoughts, letting his heart calm. Following a case would take his mind off the panic he felt about Jon.

He texted, “OK.”

Emilia Rodriguez. He had interviewed her about Evan Fischer’s case. She had picked up a pain prescription for him and claimed she was only an errand runner. Neither he nor Maureen felt that running errands was her entire story, but they had no evidence otherwise. He could see her face so clearly in his mind right now. He’d met her once and had not thought of her since, so why were her features so front and foremost in his mind?

He quickly changed into presentable clothes and raced out his door.

He parked in front of Emilia Rodriguez’s building and waited for the Chief. She was riding with Marcus Balmario, with whom he had an uneasy rivalry. During their last case, he and Balmario had eased their relationship with shared grief, but it was a new chapter for them, and Jack planned to be cautious. He couldn’t handle jibes right now.

He leaned against his hood with his arms crossed and studied the building. It seemed creepily familiar, like he’d been here recently, but then it was a typical building for this area. He’d been to at least a dozen others just like it.

Marcus Balmario pulled into a space across the street.

“Jack,” said Maureen as she and Balmario crossed it.

“Maureen, Marcus, thanks for the call,” said Jack.

“How’s the little wifey?” said Balmario.

“Not in the mood,” said Jack, and little angrier than he intended. He added, “He is fine.”

“Okay, there is no time for this, boys. Get your professional investigative hats on, now.”

Nobody messed with Maureen.

Emilia Rodriquez lived on the second floor at the end of a very short hallway at the back of the building. The hallway was dark and smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and mustiness, probably from mold. Halfway down the hallway, Jack noticed a trail of what he suspected was blood. The stain was heavier in front of her door.

It hung off its hinges. Someone had kicked it open.

Like dancers that had rehearsed the move, all three pulled their guns and approached in silence. They entered a short hallway adorned with photos. Jack flipped a light switch next to the door, but nothing happened. To the right was a living room, which he cleared. Across from it was a bathroom, which Maureen cleared. At the end of the dark hallway was a closed door. He knew it was the only bedroom. Balmario opened the door and cleared the space behind it.  

The only room left was the kitchen past the bathroom. When Jack stepped into it to clear the space, a wave of dizziness punched him back into the hallway.

“Jack?” said Maureen.

“I’m okay,” he said and stepped back into it. The dirty dishes were still in the sink, but someone had cleaned up the floor and the bloody towels. He flipped the switch next to the door, and the kitchen lit up, a hazy, yellow, postage stamp of space that was exactly how he remembered it.

“This is it,” he said. “This is my dream. I stood right here.”

“Are you sure?” said Maureen.


Maureen said, “I thought there was more to her than what she told us.”

Jack pulled a chair from the table and leaned his hands upon the back of it. The grit of peeling paint dug into his palms right where he imagined it would. “She was on the floor, right there.” He pointed to the spot in front of the chair.

Maureen squatted. “Yeah, the bleach smell is really strong right here. And, ugh. Is that hair?” She pulled tweezers and a small plastic zip lock bag from her kit. She carefully lifted strands of black hair from the connecting bar between the chair’s front legs.

“Each time a contraction hit her, she would raise her head. I could feel her bump against the chair.”

“Well, it looks like there are some roots here. Maybe we can match the mother to the abandoned baby we found yesterday morning.”   

Marcus was watching Jack. Jack could feel the skepticism seeping off him. He braced for the inevitable sarcasm Balmario was sure to throw at him. Balmario had been the one person that had razzed him the longest about his seemingly psychic insight.

Marcus didn’t say anything; he just watched.

Jack’s mind floated back to the dream. “I knew the girl.” He fisted his chest over his heart. “She was someone I thought was stunning, even as pregnant as she seemed to be. It was a horrible juxtaposition seeing her on the floor suffering compared to….” She stepped out of a shiny Lincoln and walked toward him, an undulating vision of blatant beauty. It stopped his breath.

“Compared to what?” mumbled Balmario.

“What?” said Jack. He shook his head and was back in the present.

“Go on,” said Maureen.

“I was delivering money to pay a midwife, so I guess Emilia was a midwife as well as a donkey. Right? Damn.” He bowed his head.

“What?” said Maureen.

“When I woke up the morning after the dream, I was so scared that Jon was involved in all of this. I ignored the hints that my mind was giving me, that somehow I knew the midwife. The kid who was actually here did not know her…so, I did not…know her, I mean…as him. I dismissed it.”

Marcus snorted.

Maureen glared at him.

Marcus said, “I’m going to call CSI and get them out here.”

Maureen said, “Good idea.”

Jack’s arms and legs buzzed, his jaw hurt. What had he neglected here? If Emilia Rodriguez was injured, or worse, because he had not considered this vision, he didn’t know if he could forgive himself. They had to find her. He backed out of the kitchen into the darkened hallway to catch his breath. The bedroom at the end of the hall drew him forward. He could almost feel the baby in the crook of his left arm. The girl was alive when he left. She was still moaning on the kitchen floor. There was a commotion at the door. The midwife was screaming at him to get out.  

He escaped out the bedroom window, taking the infant with him. Why had she handed him a dead baby? He went to the bedroom window and looked down at the alley below. “Maureen,” he said, “I’m going to check out the alley.”

She hollered, “Okay.”

Jack put on gloves before he wrenched open the window. It was as sticky as he remembered. He clambered onto the rickety, metal landing to climb down the fire escape. At the base of it, he tried to figure out which direction he had run. He was so afraid then, afraid of what he had seen, afraid of the people pounding on the door, terrified of the death cradled against his side. Standing here now, disoriented and churning the same way he had in the dream, he could not remember which direction he took.

He slowly turned three hundred sixty degrees, scanning the area. Four of his long strides took him to the mouth of the alley. There were skid marks snaking across it. He pulled a partial roll of crime tape from the right pocket of his coat and stretched it across the alley to block auto and foot traffic. Then he jogged down the alley toward the other entrance. He saw nothing that could be used as evidence, but he taped off this end of the alley, anyway.

Maureen leaned out the window. “Jack.”

A chill went through him. “I’ll be right up,” he said.

As he climbed through the window, he heard Maureen say into her phone, “Just cover the body until we get there.”

“No, no, no,” he moaned.

She lowered her phone. “A woman, Jack. A woman washed up on the river.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “Okay.” He quickly looked around the small flat, at first relieved it wasn’t news about Jon, then horrified when instinctively he realized that it was probably Emilia Rodriguez.

CSI arrived and began unpacking in the hallway. Maureen and Balmario were right outside the front door. Jack expected to join them on the body call. Instead, Maureen called to him, “Jack, you stay here and direct CSI. Maybe something else will occur to you that we can use.”

“I’m worried it’s Emilia,” he said.

“Just stay here and help CSI.”

“Maureen.” He took two steps to follow.

She shook her head.

He froze.

“Sir?” said one of the CSI techs. “Sir?”

Jack turned slowly toward her while Maureen left with Marcus Balmario.

Maureen and Marcus stood over Emilia Rodriguez. Her body showed signs of being in the water for at least twelve to sixteen hours, maybe more. There was a neat hole through her forehead.

Maureen said, “They are cleaning house.”

“Who was Jack talking about back there in the apartment?”

“Well, I have my suspicions, but of course, if Jack didn’t get names, we can’t know. Evan told us that he’d asked one of his father’s employees to bring money to his girlfriend’s midwife. Seems like a coincidence since Emilia and Evan knew each other.”

“Uh, huh.”

“Another coincidence, the baby was a stillbirth.”

“In Jack’s vision,” said Balmario.

“Have you ever actually worked a case with Jackson Tyler?” said Maureen.

“Not as a primary,” said Marcus with a great deal of relief.

“Well, I have. When he gets this way, you might as well take it as if you are listening to someone who witnessed the event. Because he has.”

“It’s so damn weird,” said Marcus.

“Yes. Yes, it is,” said Maureen.

“If the Morellis are cleaning house, we need to find this other player. What was his name?”

Maureen scrunched her eyes and said, “Sawyer. Evan Fischer said he sent one of his father’s employees to pay the midwife. His name was Sawyer.”

“So you think Jack was there as Sawyer?”

“Maybe,” she said.

The medical examiner’s crew was bagging the body.

Maureen said, “We need to follow her back to the morgue.”

When they were in the car following the ME’s van, Marcus said, “I have a question.”

“Yes?” she said.

“Everyone knows about Tyler’s weird mojo, but I have never seen it in action. He didn’t seem to have a lot of helpful information. If he saw this woman before she was taken, why didn’t he say something? Maybe we could have prevented her death.”

“He did say there was a commotion at the door, but he didn’t make the connection. Why would he call if he didn’t know where to send help, or who to send it to?”

“But you just said it was as if he was there.”

“But not as Jack. If our suspicions are correct, and let me remind you, we are talking about suspicion, not fact, if they are correct, he was this kid named Sawyer, who was delivering the money and got caught up in something he couldn’t handle.”

They were silent for a moment.

Then Maureen said, “I did ask him. I did ask him if he had seen the midwife’s face, because it was after we had found the abandoned infant.”

“What did he say?”

“He couldn’t really. I got the impression he felt like he knew who she was, but the connection wasn’t there.”

“Shit,” said Marcus.

“It doesn’t work that way. It’s not his fault.”

“No, I wasn’t thinking that. Tyler is going to shit bricks when he finds out she is dead. I know I would. Whether I want to admit it or not, he’s one hell of a good cop, and compassionate. He isn’t going to take this well.”

“If we can get DNA off this hair, we can at least connect the mother to the baby. If we can connect the mother to the baby, and Jack can confirm in his vision he was Sawyer, that will help a lot,” said Maureen.

“Then we can assume that the baby we found is Morelli’s?”

“Perhaps not in court, but for our sakes, I would stake my life on it.”

“How can we facilitate Jack’s memory?”

“Good question.”

Marcus snorted again.

“We need to find Sawyer,” said Maureen. “I think he’s our best bet for fitting the pieces together.”


Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson combed through her reports, trying to fit Jonathan Tyler into the web of connections created by the reports in front of her. There was no sense to her fervor except a gut feeling, especially since the FBI was now in control of all but the abandoned baby case. They didn’t know her precinct had a directive to find Jonathan Tyler before they did.

Damn. She could use another cup of coffee. The flood of information squirmed through her brain like tunneling worms trying to get away from rising water. She reread the words. They crawled into her mind and then got lost in the intricate web that seemed to weave each of the reports together: dead teen at the river, missing person reported by grandmother, abandoned baby, gang retaliation over a birth gone bad, one of their own missing. Still unanswered: Who was the mother? Where was the midwife? Who was the kid that delivered the money?  

Evan Fischer stated twice that he had sent one of his father’s employees, a young male, age unknown, named Sawyer, on an errand to run one thousand dollars to the midwife of his pregnant girlfriend, Sobrina Morelli. Marchesi had hired Sawyer the night before.

Sawyer, Sawyer. What kind of parent named their kid Sawyer nowadays? Why would Evan trust him, someone he didn’t know, with that amount of money? Why didn’t he wait for his father’s right hand man, Allessandro Santorini?   

Evan Fischer, age nineteen, reported missing.

They now knew that the Morelli clan had sent an enforcer to teach Evan Fischer a lesson because he had knocked up their sister, Sobrina, sixteen years of age. That enforcer was a young Taiwanese national, dumped at the river.

Cause of death, stab wound.

They now believed he was the Morellis’ best new fighter, trying to make his way into their organization. Evan would not admit he had taken a knife to the fight. He repeatedly stated that he was not aware of a knife. Thompson’s team did not find a knife. 

A miscarried baby lay in their morgue. The FBI whisked Evan and his father away before she could ask about the baby, before she could swab for DNA. Without it, she could not confirm that the abandoned baby was his. Her wild card was Jackson Tyler. He had dreamed of watching a young woman give birth to a stillborn baby.

The timing of it got to her. She didn’t believe in coincidences.

One thousand dollars to the midwife…

…young man, age unknown, named Sawyer….

Had Jack seen through Sawyer’s eyes? Was the unfortunate witness to a tragic birth part of the equation, or was this birthing completely unrelated?  Sawyer. Wouldn’t it be more likely for Jack to see through Evan’s eyes? Or Jonathan’s?

“Oh, lordy, would Jon use an alias?” she said aloud.

“Talking to yourself on the job. Not a good sign,” said Officer Marcus Balmario. He was geared and ready to go when he approached her desk.

Until Jackson Tyler was fully on the job, Marcus Balmario was Maureen’s choice for temporary partner. He was young and unmarried, but he was extremely level-headed. She was comfortable working with him. Their last case had ended tragically with the loss of his partner. Like Jack, he preferred to keep working to keep his mind off his grief.  Even though he and his partner had worked together less than six months, she would keep an eye on his stress levels. At the first sign of trouble, he was going home. She could work alone.

“Thanks,” he said. He sat across from her. She knew he was referring to her willingness to keep him busy.

“No problem,” she replied. “I sent Jack home to make phone calls, but you and I both know he isn’t going to stay put for very long.”

“His emotions are too high,” said Marcus. “That’s dangerous. We should put someone on him.”

“That’s a little extreme.”

He shrugged. “I sent the FBI BOLO out on our wire. Every cop in this and the surrounding areas will have Jonathan Tyler’s picture by noon,” said Marcus.

“Good, thank you,” she said. Her desk phone rang. “Thompson.”

“Transfer from a gentleman named Rodney Heathe, asking for you. He’s reporting a missing person.”

“Connect us please.”  Maureen motioned for Marcus to stand by. “Mr. Heathe.”

“I don’t know what is going on with my people, but another employee has not checked in, and like Evan, she is extremely punctual and never sick. I am quite frankly worried that somebody is trying to sabotage my business.”

“Walgreens isn’t a franchise, Sir. Unless you fail the corporation, no one is after you. Who may I ask is missing today?”

“Emilia Rodriguez, one of my cashiers.”

Maureen capped the phone with her hand to tell Marcus, “Pull a car. We’re taking a trip.” To Mr. Heathe, she said, “We will be there in about twelve minutes.”

“Thank you. Thank you,” he said.

Maureen felt like she was approaching a hornet’s nest. During her original interview with Emilia Rodriguez, Maureen’s gut told her that Emilia had more responsibility than running errands and delivering pain medications. She had pulled Emilia in on Evan’s case because he needed pain medicine after his mix up with the Morelli gang. She had delivered them.

Had Emilia Rodriguez found herself in the Morellis’ crosshairs as well?

Eleven minutes later, Marcus pulled their marked car into the parking lot, front and center of the store. She was glad they were in a marked car, instead of her Corolla or Balmario’s Jeep. A show of police on the premises was just good business in case Heathe was part of Marchesi’s gang, which they suspected he was.

Together, they entered the store and jogged to the back where they found an agitated Rodney Heathe pacing in front of the ‘Employees Only’ entrance.

“Thank you,” he said, grabbing Maureen’s hand. He was a different man today, not the arrogant SOB they had interviewed earlier. “I can’t reach her. I’ve called a dozen times.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s sit in your break room. There is so sense in scaring your other employees.” Maureen guided Mr. Heathe with a hand on his elbow and ushered him down the hallway. She pulled a chair and settled him against a wall.

Then, she dialed dispatch, relayed Emilia Rodriguez’s contact information, and asked that they attempt contact.

While waiting on the return call, Maureen asked, “Have you worked with Sra. Rodriguez for a long time?”

“Three years,” he replied, but didn’t offer any more information.

“Has she always been a cashier?” asked Marcus Balmario.

“No, she started in the stock room, but she is quiet and pleasant, so I put her out front. It pays better, and she was a good employee. Still is, I mean.”

“Of course,” said Maureen. “What about calling in sick? Does she always call when she can’t make it?”

“She has never called in sick,” said Heathe. “And with Evan’s disappearance, I thought I should report hers right away.” Her gut told her that he was worried about more than another absent employee, but she was more worried about Emilia Rodriguez than his legal troubles or his involvement. Should they conclude that he was involved with Marchesi or the Morellis somehow, they could deal with him then.

She was, however, tempted to show him the picture of the dead Taiwanese boy again just to ask if he thought Emilia knew him. She was interrupted by her phone. “Thompson.”

“Dispatch. There is no answer from your contact. Over.”

“Roger that. Out,” said Maureen.

Maureen’s suspicion that Emilia Rodriguez could be the midwife involved in the tragedy of Sobrina Morelli’s death after birthing a stillborn child was growing exponentially. Jack had…suffered, for want of a better word, a remote viewing of a birth. In need of all her resources, she decided to include him, even though she had sent him home. She texted, asking him to meet them at Sra. Rodriguez’s address. Maybe, if he wasn’t too distracted by his runaway son and his recovering partner, his mojo would turn on and lead them to her.

“Mr. Heathe, you should know we found Evan Fischer. He is well. However, he will not be coming back to work at this time.”


“I am not at liberty to discuss that,” she replied.

Rodney Heathe folded his hands in his lap and looked at the ceiling. It was clear that a million different thoughts were bombarding his mind. Maureen and Marcus gave him a few moments for the information to sink in.

“We will check on Emilia. She has been implicated in treating Evan Fischer for some injuries he incurred during a fight.” She watched his expression carefully, looking for any hint that he knew about the fight. She added, “Sra. Rodriguez may be involved with the same people Evan was involved with.”

His facial expression showed distress, possibly knowledge, but she didn’t read complicity.

As they left, Maureen said to Marcus, “He automatically assumed someone was out to get him. Did you notice that?”

“I did,” he said.

“He’s involved in this whole mess, somehow. I’m putting someone on him.” She called the Captain and set that up. “I texted Jack, invited him to meet us.”

“I thought we agreed he was unstable at this time,” mumbled Marcus.

“Again, that’s a little harsh. He had a dream about a birthing experience. With all that we know, I think we need to factor in the possibility that he remotely saw something that may give us information. I don’t know if Emilia is involved, I don’t know if Sobrina is involved, I don’t know if the stillborn we found yesterday is involved. Maybe he can figure that out.”

Marcus didn’t say anything. She knew about his rivalry with Jack. She knew about the constant teasing he gave and the razzing that Junior Inspector Tomio Dubanowski put up with because he was Jack’s partner, but at this point, it was all in-house fun. They were professionals on the job. She expected the same today.

“I don’t feel right about putting him in that position,” said Marcus. “It’s too much.”

“Too much,” she said, revved to defend Jack if she needed to.

“Yeah. His son is missing. The FBI thinks he’s here. His partner is still in the hospital. He can’t have gotten over the last case. I haven’t.”

“Yet, here you are, ready, willing, and I assume, professional.”

“Yes ma’am. I’m just worried for him. You know?”

Relieved by his compassion, she said, “I know, believe me, I know.” Finding Emilia would go a long way towards relieving some of that worry.

Mixed Messages

Jon hit a wall.


When he tried to swerve around a large cardboard box, he tripped and slammed into the back wall of a building. His knees gave way, and he slumped down the bricks, scraping the bare skin of his elbows in an attempt to brace himself. His butt slammed the cold cement beneath his feet. He pulled his knees to his chest, wrapped his arms around them, shut his eyes, and heaved great, rib-breaking sobs.

When he opened his eyes again, his body had finished crying, but his ribs were sore. He was in a narrow corridor between two buildings. There were no back doors leading into them. It was as if when the builders put them side by side, they left a hallway between them to create a watershed. Above him, wide eaves created shadow and shelter, seemingly built to direct the rain away from the base of the buildings. Beyond that, was a dark velvet sky.

Night had fallen. How long had he been asleep? The alley was sheltered, a cave in the wilderness of a big city he knew nothing about. He scooted back until he could fully lean against the wall to rest his head. It was blissfully quiet. There was no sound of traffic, no people talking; there was no commotion anywhere. He should get up and scope out the area. He should. He honestly would, if he could move. He shut his eyes for just a moment. He could stay forever in this quiet.

“This be my place,” a voice grumbled. “You is in my place. Get out.”

Jon rocked his head against the brick behind it.

“Is you deaf? I said, get outta here. This be my place.”

With difficulty, Jon opened one eye, a tiny slit through which to peer. What he saw couldn’t be real. Dressed in multiple layers of rags for clothing, a man weaved in front of him.

“I said, get out,” the spectacle said.

Jon opened both eyes. He was real.

“This be mine. You be in my place. You get out.” The man lunged toward him with hands ready to strike.

Jon tried to move out of the way, but his legs refused to cooperate, and he fell onto his side.

“Get out.” One of the man’s shoes appeared right in front of his nose. He had tied the shoe onto his foot with jute string. He could see two dusty toes peeking out of a hole on the outside curve. That same foot came off the ground and pushed at Jon’s shoulder. “Get out,” his voice grumbled again.

Jon tried to move again, but all he could do was crawl a few inches forward.

“You be hurt?” said the man. “Wha’da matter? You in a fight?”

“No, n-n-no,” stuttered Jon. He barely recognized the croak of his own voice.

“You stay,” said the man. His foot disappeared.

A few minutes later, it was back. This time, the raggedy man knelt in front of him, with a 26-ounce Campbell’s Tomato Soup can in his hands. He grabbed Jon’s arm and hauled him into a seated position. Then he held the can to Jon’s lips and said, “Drink this.”

Jon turned his head.

“Drink. Is water,” said the man. “From de fountain ou’dare.”

Jon sniffed at it.

“You calm down, drink,” said the man.

Jon took a sip, then he placed his hands over the man’s and pulled the can toward his mouth. Greedily, he gulped, but the man took away the can.

“Slow down, you,” he said.

“Th, thank you,” said Jon.

“Alright,” the man replied.

The man sat next to him. After a few breaths, he handed Jon the can. Jon took it and sipped twice, then held it in his lap. He was monstrously thirsty, but the man was right. If he gulped it too fast, it would all end up on the ground. After a few more breaths, he took another sip.

“Thank you,” he said again.

The man nodded. “Alright.”

When Jon finished the can of water, he handed the can to the raggedy man. The man pushed the can back toward him and said, “Keep. Now get out, this be my place.”

Jon didn’t understand at first.

“You get outta here, go, go. This be my place.”

“But, I, I…?”

“This be my place.”

Jon used the wall to brace his weight upon his shaking legs, and slowly pulled himself up. “Th-th-thank you,” said Jon.

The man nodded. Then he leaned against the wall, folded his arms and shut his eyes. “You be gone. This be my place.”

Jon wobbled out of the alley, which opened onto a small plaza. A drinking fountain was in the middle of it, surrounded by a patch of neatly shorn grass. Jon had no memory whatsoever of passing it when he ran through, yet here it was, a tiny oasis in downtown Detroit.

In his mind, he heard Rat say, “Run to the river. Don’t stop.” He could smell the river, but he had no idea which way to go.

He filled the tomato soup can to the brim and drank about half. Then he sat next to the fountain while he thought about what to do next. He was supposed to run to the river but what difference did it make? It seemed like anywhere he went in Detroit he was doomed. Either he contacted his father and met trouble that way, or he hid until the Morelli gang found him.

“Where’s the other one,” Morelli had said. “You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? The little creep who gave that old witch money for my sister, my dead sister, Sobrina. I want to thank him, too.” Jon had no illusions about what that meant.

Was she actually dead? He could not superimpose the beautiful girl in the alley with the one who fought for two lives on the floor of the kitchen in the midwife’s apartment.

How was any of that his fault? He was just an errand boy. That was all. How did that make him involved in any way that justified retribution? Maybe they wanted to know where the baby was. He had no illusions about that either. He had put it down and couldn’t pick it up again. He chose to abandon it in front of a derelict pharmacy. What would have happened if he’d taken it back to Marchesi’s Bar and Grill with him? Would that have changed the course of the lives that had been lost?  

While he sat there agonizing over the choices that he had made, a police cruiser rolled up to the plaza. Jon watched it approach and quickly scooted behind the fountain so he was not in direct sight of the officers in the car. The doors opened and shut. Headlights flashed. Through a bullhorn an officer stated, “Detroit PD. Clear the park immediately.”

Had they seen him?

“Clear the park,” the officer barked again.

They weren’t asking him to present himself; they were asking him to leave. So, he stood and trotted as best he could away from them toward another space between two buildings. However, he didn’t stop in its shelter. He tottered straight through, into an empty lot, and beyond that to an avenue that stretched forever in both directions. The whole time, he was asking himself, “Why?” Why didn’t he approach the officers and ask for help? It would have been so easy.

He stopped a moment to get his bearings. The officers had not followed him. Were they still there? He could go back, or he could go forward. He froze between the two choices.

A few feet ahead of him was another opening between buildings. Maybe it was another alley. He slowly walked toward it. This one looked large enough to hold a dumpster with room for a vehicle to pass. About twelve feet into the alley, the dumpster was flush against a wall. Cautiously, he wandered toward it. There was no one else here. He hunkered down and hid beside it, protected from any onlookers that might pass by. His eyes began to water, and his breath hitched. A sob escaped, and then another, and then another, until he couldn’t stop. He cried himself into oblivion.  

The beeping of a garbage truck backing up, alerted him. He scooted away from the dumpster just as the large arms came down and clamped onto it to lift it over the yawning hole in the side of the truck. He trotted up the alley away from the racket it made. The workers didn’t pay any attention to him at all, which made him think that they had probably seen their share of drifters hiding the same way he had.

Grilled chorizo, the tangy scent reminiscent of the Mexican food truck near Stagg High School in Stockton hit his nose. His stomach rumbled. In a lot next to a service station, a Mexican food truck was rolling out its wares. He still had some money in his pockets: the ten Rat had given him, and a few bills that Charlie Marchesi had given him that he had yet to use. He was the truck’s first customer. The breakfast burrito cost him four dollars and twenty-five cents with tax, an hour’s wage in this town. He wandered back to the little park and filled his can with water. He found a bench on the street that led back to the tiny park with the fountain, and sat. There he ate his burrito. He had never tasted anything so good in all his life.

The city didn’t seem so scary now that morning had come. He was sure he could be successful here.

As he sat enjoying his breakfast, a shiny Lincoln with blackened windows pulled up to the light a block away. How many people drove Lincolns in this town? How many had windows so black they obscured the inside of the car?

Jon shoved the last bite of burrito into his mouth and ran. He made it to the alley where he’d sheltered for the night and hid behind the empty dumpster. The Lincoln rolled past the alley. Perhaps he should have turned himself in last night, to the cops who chased him away from the fountain.

It was too late to worry about that. Now, he had to learn how to stay out of sight. 

Catch and Release

Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson wanted to scream – or punch a wall – or shoot the hell out of a target practice mannequin. Her recourse was to bite off a hangnail. Now, the darn thing burned like a bitch.

Sooner or later, Captain Jamison would call on her, ask her why she was holding Rat Snatcher in interrogation so long. She needed answers. That’s why. He was a possible suspect, possibly posturing as an FBI agent. He was a silent stone sitting in that hot seat. She directed question after question. He didn’t ask for counsel, he didn’t answer. He didn’t twitch. But the most peculiar thing was his calm, softly alert eyes. They weren’t the eyes of a criminal.

Damn this day. It had started with huge questions and was now ending with more. Who left the baby? Poor little girl never had a chance. The coroner confirmed she was too premature to survive. Where was the mother? Who was the mother? Why had she left it on the cold, dirty cement in front of a derelict pharmacy?

Her office phone rang. “Thompson.”

“My office, now.” Captain Jamison sounded as snappish and tired as she felt.

He didn’t even wait for her to get all the way through the door when he barked as predicted, “What the hell do you know about this guy in Interrogation One?”

She and Balmario had raced to the scene and then changed course when he roared past them in his beat up van. It was apparent he was fleeing something, and coming from the direction of the shootout.

“He’s not talking, Captain. Balmario has worked him. I’ve worked him. He’s a clam.”

“Has he lawyered up?”

“No, he hasn’t done that either. He just sits and stares.”

“So we cannot confirm that he was the shooter. What about the other two? What are they saying?”

“Charlie Marchesi and Evan Fischer. I have them separated. I’d like to call Jack Tyler, sir. He was first on the Fischer case. I’ve already called the grandmother.”

“Do it.”

Jack answered his phone before the first ring ended. “Tyler.”

“Jack, it’s Maureen. How’s Tom?”

“Slowly hobbling down the corridor fighting every second of having to use a walker.”

Maureen chuckled. “Sounds about right.”

Jack mumbled, “For someone who wants to go home he grumbles a lot.”

Maureen listened as Tom called Jack’s name and said something she could not decipher. She was sure it was a snappish quip in Jack’s direction.

Jack replied, “Keep walking.”

Tom mumbled again, and Jack said, “Whatever.”

Maureen chuckled and then she said, “Jack, Evan Fischer is in protective custody.”

There was silence on the phone. She assumed he was updating Tom on the missing child case.

When he came back on the line, he said, “I’ll be right there.”

“You should know; we put his father in protective custody as well.”

Jack jumped to the same conclusion she had. “Conti?”

She said, “He is using the name Charlie Marchesi. He owns Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.”

There was silence. When came back on, he said, “What? Do you think one of them called me earlier?”

“I don’t know why they would ask for you specifically.”

“I have been obsessing about that since the call came through.”

Jack had received a phone call from someone who asked for him, but the caller hung up. He traced the call to a street booth in front of Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.

Maureen said, “I arrested Rat Snatcher, aka Phillip Morris.”

“Whoa, really?” said Jack. “I can hardly wait.”

“Mr. Snatcher is sitting in Interrogation One. There is a lot to tell you. Fill you in when you get here.”

“Roger that.”

Twenty minutes later Jack leaned against the wall near the door to the bullpen watching a tearful Claudine Fischer reunite with her grandson. He had no idea what they were saying, but he was relieved to see them together. Evan’s face was a mess. Poor kid lived through a brutal beating to witness the execution of Allessandro Santorini. His own life had been threatened by the eldest Morelli brother, Santorini’s executioner.

There was no information on Santorini other than what Evan had haltingly explained. Santorini was his father’s right hand man, helped to run the staff at the restaurant and at the food and drinks booth during mixed martial arts meets. He kept everyone in line. Now he was dead. They would never know for sure, but this explained the name “Alles’ on the mysterious note that Maureen found on her windshield while she was interviewing at Walgreens. It was clear after today’s events that Alles Santorini would have known Evan’s whereabouts at the start of their investigation into his disappearance.   

Jack left Evan and his grandmother to their business. He walked past the room where Charlie Marchesi sat. It was hard to believe that Marchesi was Calogero Conti, the notorious mob boss turned State’s witness. He was a short man, light boned and much younger than Jack imagined. Now he sat with the slumped-shouldered posture of defeat. Jack was unimpressed.

He turned and went to the observation booth adjacent to the interrogation room that held Rat Snatcher. Maureen was there, staring at Snatcher through the mirrored window.

“Is he the shooter?” said Jack.

“Don’t know. He doesn’t have residue on his hands, his jacket, or his shirt. The lab is testing a pair of gloves we found in the back of his van.”

Jack stared at Snatcher. He was every bit the bear sitting in the chair behind the table, as he was the night he first met him on the street in front of Evan’s apartment building.  

Maureen grabbed the tagged evidence bag with the FBI credentials off the table in front of them. “This was found on the console between the two front seats. No other identification was found on him.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s his,” said Jack. He took the bag and stared at it a moment. Then he said, “Claudine Fischer called him Phillip Morris. This could be real.”

“He won’t talk to any of us. Maybe he will talk to you,” she said.

Jack kept the bag with the credentials and opened the door. Before he stepped all the way through it, Rat Snatcher reacted by standing. The look on his face was that of shock, mixed with recognition.

Jack froze, and stared at Snatcher.

“Hey, Pig,” Snatcher said.

Jack’s shoulders dropped. He closed the door behind him and walked to the table. He pulled out the chair across from Snatcher, sat down, and said, “So nice to see you again, Mr. Snatcher, or should I call you Agent Morris?” Jack held up the evidence bag with the credentials. Then he threw it onto the table.

Snatcher stopped it from sliding off onto the floor and sat down to hold it in front of him. It seemed like the reaction of a man who was taking care of something that belonged to him.

Jack tapped open a picture of Evan Fischer on his phone and held it up toward Rat. “Tell me about this kid,” he said. “Why was he threatened with execution?”

Rat looked at him with a sharp, surprised expression.

Jack stared back for a full minute. “He’s in protective custody,” he said.

Rat relaxed an infinitesimal amount.

Jack was an intuitive thinker. Otherwise, he may not have noticed that change.

Rat said, “That’s not the kid you should be looking for.”

“What?” said Jack.

Snatcher shrugged.

“Where did he take the baby?” Jack was surprised at the words that just rolled unbidden out of his mouth.

If the look on Snatcher’s face was any indication, he was as surprised as Jack was.

Maureen knocked on the window.

“Excuse me a minute.” He pointed his finger at Snatcher. “You will be telling me when I return.”

Maureen was agitated. “Whoa. Jack?” she said. “What the hell?”

Jack glanced at her. He glanced at Rat.

Rat, stunned, bent over the table and cradled his head in his arms.

Maureen scolded. “What do you know about the baby?”

Jack threw his hands into the air. “Hey, I’m not the one in Interrogation.”

“You sure as hell are if you are going to crawl into everybody’s head.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the baby. How did you know about the baby?”

“It was just a dream. I have no idea why I said it in there.” He pointed to the interrogation room where Rat still cowered under the cover of his arms.

“Oh Lordy, Jack.” Maureen put her hands on her hips and paced a circle. “Okay, listen. Before we got the call about a shooting in North Corktown, Balmario and I were investigating an abandoned infant case north of there. Someone left a premature stillborn on the steps of a shut-down pharmacy.”

Jack’s expression turned inward. “Oh god,” said Jack. “I wondered what happened to it.”

Maureen stared at him for a full ten seconds. “Okay,” she said. “Okay, okay. Quickly, in as few words as possible, what the hell do you know?”

“Umm. Woman struggling on floor, baby born still, midwife shoves baby in arms of the person I was. I assumed that was Evan, prayed it wasn’t Jon. People were knocking hard enough on her door to break in. I left…took the fire escape and ran. Does that help?”

“No. sort of.” She shook her head at him. She took a deep breath. “Did you see the midwife?”

“No.” Jack pinched the bridge of his nose. “I mean, yes. No.” He shook his head. “I saw her, but…,” but, he would have to sit somewhere quietly to try to remember what he saw. “She did seem familiar at the time.”  

Maureen said, “That is not helpful.”

She pointed at Rat. “He’s rattled. See what you can get from him. I am going to go find out what Evan can tell me the abandoned baby.”

Jack nodded. “Fine.” He returned to his chair in the interrogation room.

“Sorry about the interruption,” said Jack. “You were saying about the baby?”

“I wasn’t sayin’ no thing about a baby,” said Rat. “What are you anyway, some sort of psycho?”

“Uhh, the word is psychic, but I suspect you know that.” Jack glared at him. “Let’s start again.” He pulled out his phone and flipped on the recorder. “Please state your name.”

Rat glared back. “Rat Snatcher,” he said very deliberately into the phone.

“And, I’ll ask again,” said Jack. “Please state your given name, not your street name.”

“And I’ll say again, Rat Sna – ”

A tall FBI agent stormed through the door and flashed his badge. Maureen, obviously agitated, stood behind him.

Jack jumped up.

The agent announced, “We’re done here. Let’s go.”

Rat stood, grabbed the evidence bag, and retrieved his ID. Then he threw the bag on the table and stuffed his ID into his back pocket. Defiance shot from his eyes, slapping Jack as he watched the proceedings in disbelief.  

As the agent ushered Rat Snatcher out the door, Rat turned to Jack. His eyes were gentle, as if he suddenly dropped the charade. He said quietly so only Jack could hear him, “I told him to run toward the river. You need to find him before they do. You need to find him before we do.” He took a step out the door, then turned again to Jack. “It’s remarkable how much he favors you.”

The scene in front of Jack disappeared, replaced by a gray mist. Feet slapped pavement. Cars honked. Tires squealed. Someone shouted, “Fuck you.”  

Maureen grabbed his arm.

Slowly the interrogation room came back into focus.

The agent pushed Rat Snatcher into the hallway to usher him out of their precinct. Four other agents awaited them, ushering Charlie Marchesi, Evan, and his grandmother Claudine Fischer out of the building, as well.

Jamison shouted, “Debriefing. My office. Balmario, Tyler, you too.”

As they clustered in the office, Jamison barked, “Shut the door and listen up. The FBI now has jurisdiction over the shootout behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. It’s a turf war I would rather our officers stay out of. The word is that the Morellis were out for blood over the death of their little sister. Seems she and Evan were involved.”

“What about the abandoned infant, Cap? Is that part of it?”

“Unknown. Pick a team to follow up on that. You three have a bigger problem.”

Captain Jamison grabbed a bundle from his chair and spread it on his desk: a green and gold letter jacket. In one of his visions, Jack had grabbed it while transported to a Greyhound bus. At the time, he thought maybe it was Evan’s jacket, and it gave him comfort to think that maybe Evan was safe.

Jamison slapped a flyer on top of the jacket – an FBI BOLO for a missing teen.

Jonathan Tyler.

Jamison said, “Seems our little boy here was involved with Marchesi’s gang. He was not at the scene. The Morellis are looking for him. If they find him, he’s dead. The FBI is looking for him. If they find him, he is arrested as a State’s Witness and disappears in the system. We are going to find him first.”

Jack barely heard what the Captain said. His heart was beating so hard, it hurt.

In his mind, he heard Rat whisper, “He favors you. You need to find him before we do, before they do. I told him to run toward the river.”

His running feet slapped the pavement beneath him.


Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson stood over the tiny wrapped body, wondering if she was going to find a dead, teen aged girl close by. “Have you searched the neighborhood?” she asked Balmario.

“We have two teams doing that right now. Nothing to report, yet,” he said.

“Look at this,” said a young member of the investigation team. He knelt in the corner next to the boarded up door of the closed pharmacy.

Maureen squatted next to him. Someone tried to scratch the cement. “It looks like an address.”

“This isn’t knife scratch, maybe a rock,” he said.

The team looked around for the rock, but nothing popped out at them.   

“Well, at least get a picture of it,” said Maureen. When she stood, she felt the pressure of a rock under her shoe. She bent down to look at it. “Do these look like scrape marks to you?”

Marcus Balmario grabbed a tweezers from his kit and picked it up. He walked into the street to catch an early morning sunbeam and turned the rock this way and that. “No,” he said.

“Bag it anyway, but keep looking. Look for anything. Something made those marks in the cement.”

“We don’t even know if these marks mean anything,” said the young investigator.

“No. We don’t,” said Maureen. “We don’t know anything, so we look at everything. And we look everywhere for it. Search the sidewalk and the gutter. Maybe the person tossed it when they finished scraping that message. We don’t know what he or she was thinking, but we do know they were hurting.”

Her phone buzzed. “Chief Thompson,” she answered.

Dispatch said, “All available units, Pine and Brooklyn, shots fired. Repeat, shots fired.”

“Balmario, we can leave this with the CI’s. Come with me. Shots fired about five blocks from here.” She ran to her car.

Balmario jumped in the passenger seat as she finished radioing intent to attend the call. Radio chatter was coming in from multiple units. This was bigger than a simple domestic altercation. As she turned south onto Brooklyn, a van sped past her going away from the call. The driver looked hell bent on getting out of the area.

“That can’t be good,” said Balmario.

“No. Call it in. We’re changing course.”

While Maureen turned around, Balmario called it in. “Dispatch, this is car 1132, disengaging shots-fired call, redirecting toward possible suspect driving a gray van, plate white on blue, Andy-Robert-Sally,  niner, niner, three. Northbound Brooklyn, repeat Andy-Robert-Sally, niner, niner, three. Over.”

“Car 1132, directing assistance. ETA one minute. Over.”

“Ten-four, out.”

“Here we go,” said Maureen. The driver in the van slowed the vehicle and pulled into a deep vacant lot behind an indoor mini-mall. He came to a stop in the shadow of the large building. If they had not been following him, he would now be undetectable from a casual street drive-by, especially if the persons exceeded the speed posted.

Balmario got on the radio and redirected back up, while Maureen parked. Maureen hoped the CI’s had packed up the abandoned infant scene and left. She wasn’t sure how she felt about leaving an unarmed crew alone at an investigation in a neighborhood that was experiencing a shoot-out somewhere. She radioed Dispatch to send them packing if they hadn’t done so already.

As Balmario’s secondary teams arrived, they lined up with her, one behind and one in front essentially creating a barricade with their vehicles should the need arise.

She grabbed her field glasses to get a look at the man sitting at the wheel. The driver was a statue, young and probably impulsive.

 “He’s not moving,” said Balmario.

“No. I’m a little worried he’s been hit, but I can’t see blood.” She passed the glasses to him.

He watched for a minute, and then said, “No. I don’t either. If he was hit, he was hit low.”

“He could be bleeding out.” Maureen took the glasses back from him.  

Rat Snatcher sat in the vehicle contemplating the decision he was about to make while the officers sat in their vehicles watching for his next move. He could not believe all the time he’d spent on this case, wasted, blown to bits with one stupid act by a horny teenager who thought he was in love.


He stared at his hands for a while as if he could find answers there. His head was telling him this was over, his heart was weeping it wasn’t. While he stared at his hands, he could see the officers in his peripheral vision gearing up.

A woman, armored with a vest, stepped out of the unmarked police car and pointed her service weapon at him. She kept her focus as she stepped between the cars. He knew what she expected: black man behind the wheel of a vehicle fleeing shots fired.

Choices, choices, choices.

He pulled his wallet from his pocket as unobtrusively as he could. He didn’t want to make any sudden changes. He knew that any movement they saw could trigger a response, and it would not be in his favor. He flipped it onto the console between the seats.


Should he try to preserve his cover or blow all his efforts these past months? He hoped to God that Detroit PD had Marchesi and his son in custody. It was the best way to keep them safe. However, there was no chance they rounded up all of Morelli’s men when they raided the event. If he was right, the second Morelli brother had probably slipped back into his hole after sending his men to hunt him down. He had just killed the older Morelli brother. That was a fact, however righteous it was. Rat was now a marked man.

Which meant they had eyes on this – whatever this turned out to be. Choices.

He shook his head slightly as if that would help. He turned and watched the woman step across the sidewalk. Her entire team aimed their weaponry at him. Choices.

He sat straight and slowly slid both empty hands around the wheel of his van until they rested on top of it where her team could see them.

She slowly approached.

He kept his eyes forward, looking straight ahead instead of at her and kept his hands still.

He heard the click, as she engaged the handle of the door.

“Step out of the car and keep your hands where I can see them,” she said, calm and collected as if she was accustomed to being obeyed. Impressive.

He knew when he stepped out of the vehicle, her attitude would change. He was big. Big and black. A perfect scenario for regrets if he didn’t handle this exactly right. He let her open the door, then slowly raised his hands to clasp them behind his head. He shifted his legs to stretch them toward the ground so he could stand in front of her.

“Get down on your knees,” she said.

He did. It was at that moment he noticed that another officer had joined her. That officer quickly stepped behind Snatcher and grabbed one of his wrists, a little more roughly than he should have. He allowed it. He allowed the officer to zip tie his hands behind him. He let the cop haul him to his feet.

Maureen said to him, “Name please.”

“Rat Snatcher,” he said, lowering his gaze to look at her directly. He knew it would seem defiant. Might as well keep up appearances.

The woman, who was obviously the ranking officer, wasn’t intimidated. She chuckled and said, “Mr. Snatcher, it’s so good to finally meet you.”

“What?” he said. What the hell?  What was she talking about? Why would they ever have a need to meet each other? It threw him, and he backed up slightly.

Five officers, including the woman in front of him, prepared to shoot. The man holding him threw his body into the hold.

“Easy, easy,” said Rat. “Just lost my balance for a moment.”

Keeping her gun focused on him, Maureen said, “We are detaining you as a suspect in a shooting incident. Furthermore, we wish to question you about another case. You were seen by one of my officers in front of the building of a missing teen aged boy.”

Rat nodded. Evan Fischer. He remembered the cop that took the call. The man had not backed down when Rat hassled him. 

To the officer holding him, she said, “Read him his rights.” She lowered her gun. She backed up a few steps while she stared at him, daring him to make her reestablish her aim. When he didn’t respond, she turned and walked toward her Corolla. The other officers at the arrest surrounded him to accompany his walk into custody.   

Choices. As they go, keeping his cover was probably the best one for now. He had no idea what Detroit PD had found at the Marchesi/Morelli showdown. He knew only his part. He had shot the eldest Morelli because he’d executed Allessandro Santorini, and then had threatened Charlie and his son. Rat had run like hell after that. He hoped it was enough to distract the other brother from taking the shot at them. He prayed to God that Sawyer, aka Jonathan Tyler, had turned into a rabbit. It hurt to think that another lost boy might not survive this monumental fuck up.  

As the team secured Rat Snatcher in the car behind Maureen’s Corolla, Balmario combed the van for evidence. He ran back to the caravan with two evidence bags in hand. “Found this in the car.” He held up the first bag so that Maureen could see the gun within it. “Also this.” He held up the second. It contained an open wallet with the prisoner’s ID.

Badge number on an FBI insignia.

Maureen turned to glance at the car behind them. Great. “What did we step into?” she muttered.

“There’s more,” said Marcus. “There are shovels in the back covered with fresh dirt. I found a green and gold letter jacket that is clearly not his. There seem to be traces of body fluids, maybe blood, at least that’s what it smells like. He has a lock box in the spare tire well. I think we need to tow that thing before we take eyes off it.” He glanced back at the van.

Maureen sighed. “Agreed. Call for a tow. Send the car with our friend to the precinct. We’ll wait for the tow and cover for each other.”

“You don’t want to talk to him?” Balmario tipped his head toward Rat Snatcher who sat gazing at his lap in the back seat of the car behind them.

“No, not out here. Somewhere safe. We need to get him to the precinct, play the game to an expected result.”

“Roger that,” said Marcus Balmario. He popped out of the car and ran to the one behind them. He spoke to the officer in the passenger seat. When he was done, he tapped the car, nodded, and ran back to Maureen’s Corolla and got in.

“Guess we hang out for now,” he said.

“Yep,” she answered.

They watched as the car behind them pulled away with their prisoner on board. Whether or not he was really FBI she would know soon enough. She could hardly wait to hear his story.