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.


The van wasn’t cold after sitting in the sun by the side of the trail. However, Sawyer’s teeth chattered. He clamped his jaw to stop them. Silent and shivering, he was empty, a husk instead of a boy. He wondered if death felt hollow like this. Was it cold like this? Did the fear keep stabbing like this? He couldn’t get rid of the idea that Lincoln was still alive, even after he saw a shovel full of dirt hit his face. Why couldn’t he let go of that?

Rat Snatcher glanced at him, but said nothing. What could he say?

They had just illegally buried a young boy in the woods next to the Detroit River, a young boy who had been brutally gang raped. Rat said he probably died of a heart attack. Sawyer would have had a heart attack if he’d suffered what Lincoln suffered. He wasn’t sure it would have killed him.

“Tell me again,” he said. “He was dead, right?”

Rat glanced at him, horror evident on every curve of his face. “Yes. Yes. What kind of question is that?”

Sawyer couldn’t help the tears that suddenly fell from his eyes with Rat’s rebuke. He quickly scrubbed them away.

The drive back to Marchesi’s Bar and Grill seemed twice as long as the trip to the woods, defying his conventional understanding of the return-trip effect. Under normal circumstances, the return would seem shorter. In fact, it was provable that it often felt shorter by more than five minutes. Sawyer turned to Rat to tell him about this observation, but Rat was laser-focused straight ahead as if the only thing holding him in place was the concentration it took to negotiate the city traffic. Sawyer resisted the impulse to geek out, figuring it was counterproductive in this situation.  

As they neared North Corktown, Rat sat up tall, peering ahead for all he was worth.

Sawyer looked too, trying to figure out what made Rat nervous. A shiny black Town Car with darkened windows caught his attention as it pulled across an avenue ahead of them at a light. Beautiful and sleek, it was a car he’d always admired. His grandpa Hank drove one when he was younger. Sawyer had a picture of him standing in front of it as a young reporter. “That’s the life,” he thought.

As memories rolled through his mind Rat shouted, “Hold on.” Then, he gunned the engine and raced to the nearest parking space. The tires of his van squealed and the chassis rocked as he pulled into it and yanked on the brakes. He unlocked his door, but he didn’t get out. Instead he stared through each mirror and ahead at the street in front of the van, as if counting every car parked around them.

“What?” said Sawyer.  “Why did we stop?”

“We walk from here. Keep your head down, follow me, and for chrissake, keep your mouth shut.” Rat flung open the door and stepped out.

Sawyer did the same. As they walked away, Rat aimed his key fob toward the van and locked it.

Sawyer could smell the sour stench of fear rolling off Rat as he kept a brisk pace. But he stopped often, and pushed Sawyer behind him while he scoped the area with a 360º sweep of his gaze. Each time the stench of fear grew stronger. Each time he muttered, “This is stupid, this is stupid, this is stupid.” 

After the third time, Sawyer said, “What? What is stupid?”

Before he could blink, Rat rounded on him and grabbed Sawyer’s shoulders as if to shake him. “I told you to be quiet. Did you think I was kidding?” His fingers dug into Sawyer’s triceps, pinching muscle to bone.

Then he dropped his hands from Sawyer’s shoulders, put a paw on top of his head, and looked straight into his eyes. “Keep. Your. Damn. Mouth. Shut.”

Sawyer gulped and nodded.

When they were across the street from Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, they heard men shouting. The sound seemed to come from the alley behind it. Rat grabbed Sawyer by the front of his shirt and growled, “You stay behind me. If I tell you to run, you run as if your life depended on it. Run back to the river. You don’t stop for nothin’. You hear me?”

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know yet, but I know it isn’t going to end well. Just do as I say.”

Sawyer nodded again.

Rat shoved Sawyer behind him and sauntered toward the noise. He stopped before turning into the alley and grabbed Sawyer’s arm. He whispered into his ear, “Quiet as a mouse, Topino. We listen from here.”

Sawyer sank into the shadow against the wall, but not before he caught a glimpse of the shiny black Lincoln Town Car parked across from the back door of Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. He was barely able to comprehend the rest of the scene in the alley. 

Allessandro, the tattooed man, was on his knees at the base of the staircase with his hands duct taped behind him. Two giant men, one dressed in greasy coveralls and the other that looked like he just jumped off his cruiser, stood over him with large automatic rifles. Marchesi was on the stoop near the back door. Evan cowered behind him. The door was shut.

Sawyer thought, “The door automatically locks when it closes. You won’t be able to get back inside.” Those were the words Marchesi said to him his first night as he showed him the room he was renting. That seemed like years ago.   

He couldn’t help himself. He grabbed the back of Rat’s shirt and hung on. Rat’s attention was diverted momentarily to acknowledge his clinging, then he held up his finger to his mouth to remind him to keep quiet.

There were several other men in the alley standing guard around the men with guns. Two of them stomped up the stairs and grabbed Marchesi and Evan. They pulled the couple off the staircase and shoved them to the pavement, forcing them to their knees next to Allessandro. One of them taped their hands behind their backs.

“Where’s the other one,” barked a man as he stepped out of the Town Car that Sawyer had so admired. He was dressed in a black tuxedo. His polished shoes seemed incredibly out of place as he stamped across the greasy pavement. “Where is he, huh?” He loomed over the three captives and pulled Evan to his feet. “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.”

Sawyer gasped and tightened his hold on Rat’s shirt.

Evan started to sob. The man threw him back to the ground.

Marchesi leaned toward Evan and said something in another language.

Rat muttered, “Be a man. Don’t give them anything.”

One of the armed men used the butt of his gun to club Marchesi’s ear. The cartilage cracked and his ear began to bleed.

Rat Snatcher turned to Sawyer and whispered, “Listen up Bitch. I have to get help, and you have to run. Run.”

Sawyer froze.

Rat shoved him and vehemently whispered, “RUN!”

Sawyer ran. When he passed the van, he realized Rat was not behind him. He heard three loud pops. His feet didn’t wait to process the information. They kept running. In the distance, sirens screamed toward him. Lots of them. His feet didn’t wait for those either.

 Sawyer’s feet slapped the pavement behind him, moving farther and farther away. Rat pulled his phone from his pocket and punched the number three. He said, “Extraction, Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, send back up, armed confrontation.” When he hung up he crept to the corner. He was a good shot. He knew he could knock the automatics out of the hands of the goons standing there, but he knew the Morellis. The backup gang would come at him like a herd of crazed elephants.

At that moment, the eldest Morelli brother pulled a twenty-two from a vest holder hidden under his fancy suit. He shot Allessandro Santorini in the head. Evan screamed as Santorini fell against him. Little twit, this was his fuck up. When Morelli trained his gun on Charlie Marchesi, Rat Snatcher aimed and took him out. Then he ran.

He ran as if his life depended on it, because it did. He hoped his runaway bitch had run far enough. If anyone from either side saw Jonathan Tyler, he was dead. He beeped open his van, raced to it, and climbed into the driver’s seat. It took a half a second to ignite the engine. He heard shots. A bullet pinged off the back of the van. He roared out of the parking space as flashing lights headed toward him. He only hoped he’d created enough distraction to save the lives of Evan and his father.

Rat had a choice: find a place to hide or give himself up. With either choice, it was case closed, blown to smithereens. All these months trying to find the connection to the traffic business out of Taiwan, to derail the train, was wasted. The greedy belly of Detroit would continue to feed off Taiwan’s primed-to-fight young men. It made him sick.   

Payment Due

(Warning: Street life often ends in violence. This is one of those scenes.)

Sawyer huddled in an alcove, leaning against the door of a small pharmacy, hidden from the terrors of the night. The body of the baby rested next to his feet. He never should have put it down, but he was cold, hungry, and scared out of his mind. In his haste to get away from whatever terror was knocking down the door at Emilia Rodriguez’s flat, he ran past the streets he recognized. He would have to retrace his steps to find his way back to Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.

He stared at the body. He couldn’t bear to pick it up. Would it be safe here? Surely, someone would find it when the shop opened in the morning. He had to get going. Rat was expecting him. Marchesi expected the hundred dollars. Evan expected to hear the outcome of his desperate plea for help.

Sawyer couldn’t bear to leave it. But he had to, didn’t he? Shaking, he stood. With his back solid against the door, he said, “Bye, baby.” His feet refused to move. With as much will as he could muster, he pushed away from the door and took one step. “I have to go now,” he said to it, shaking his head. “You’re safe here. Someone will find you in the morning.” He took another step.

Three more steps took him out of the alcove. He stopped, wanting so much to look behind him and reassure the little baby that all would be well. Tears blurred his vision.

The baby was dead. There was no baby, just a body. Sawyer felt his stomach lurch, but before he allowed it to empty the sadness that filled it, he ran. He ran back the way he had come.

Numb and cold and shaking with shock, Sawyer stumbled down the alley behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill as the first kiss of dawn rose above the building. He felt death in the crook of his arm, though the tiny stillborn baby was no longer there. A scream ricocheted off the walls of the alley, but it registered in his mind as an after burn of the screams of a broken, beautiful girl birthing death.

The second scream, as desperate and haunted as the first, surrounded him where he was, in the alley. The person screamed a third time. It came from an empty garage beyond the bar. He ran to it and froze outside a sliding door made of corrugated metal. From inside, he heard jeering men, like the men in the warehouse championing the mixed martial arts fighters of their choosing. Yanking on the heavy door, he pulled it half way open.

Inside a mob of men circled around a commotion on the floor. The same voice screamed, “No-o-o-o,” before gasping another sobbing breath.

Sawyer ran to the edge of the circle. He couldn’t see what was happening, so he jostled the preoccupied men until he slipped through them to the center. Allessandro, the tattooed man, pressed Lincoln, the other server at the fighting event, into the cold, grease stained, cement floor. His heavy hand smashed the poor boy’s cheek into his own spit and tears. 

Lincoln’s clothes, ripped and bloodstained, hung off his naked arms and legs. A second man stepped up to him. While Alles held him down, the second man grabbed his torn pants and yanked them to his knees, leaving Lincoln bare-assed. Then he motioned obscenely to the crowd, rousing a cheer before he pulled down the zipper of his own jeans.

Sawyer yelled, “No,” as he shoved the man away from Lincoln. Sawyer fell onto his knees and put a gentle hand on the younger boy’s face. Alles let go of Lincoln to grab at Sawyer but immediately slammed his hand on the younger boy when he tried to squirm away.

Simultaneously, three men grabbed Sawyer, one on each arm and another that pulled him by his hair. He twisted and kicked. He tried to grab the hand that was clawing at his scalp, but the men on each arm held him too tightly and he couldn’t reach the fingers digging into his head. Sawyer shouted and bucked, trying to free himself. As a team, they jerked him out of the circle, which opened up to let them through. “This ain’t your business,” shouted Allessandro. He sat on Lincoln who sobbed uncontrollably, face first on the cold, dirty cement.

“Leave him alone,” said Sawyer, jerking against the hold on his arms.

Someone in the crowd tittered.

“Or what?” sneered Alles. “You gonna take me down?”

Someone else said, “Yeah, he’s gonna slap you with a dishcloth.”

The crowd roared with laughter.

“I’m not going to let you hurt him,” said Sawyer, furiously struggling with the men on either side of him.

A woolly, bearded man with a slashed and scarred face said, “The new little kitchen pet is gonna bust our butts.” He made kissy noises at him. “Thinks he’s gonna take away our fun.”

Several grumbled, “Yeah right. No way, fool. I’d fancy his ass, next.” The crowd agreed.

A loud crack resounded against the metal garage door. Everyone froze. The men that held Sawyer turned. Rat Snatcher stood in the doorway with a jaggedly cut two by two in his hand. His face snarled when he growled, “Let Sawyer go before I break some heads.”

Alles sneered. “He’s interrupting some business. That’s going to cost him.”

The crowd hooted.

“He’s my business. I’ll deal with him.”

“Since when, Rat,” said Alles, stepping away from Lincoln to yank Sawyer’s hair.

Rat swung the two by two against the door, and the crack resounded through the alley.

Allessandro let Sawyer’s hair go, and the men threw him at Rat.

Sawyer fell to his knees in front of Snatcher who also grabbed his hair to pull him up.

Sawyer winced and cried out in pain. With both hands, he grabbed Snatcher’s wrist.

Alles said, “Get your bitch outta here before we jack roll him after we’re done with this little thief.”

Lincoln’s screams escalated.

Alles strode back to the struggling boy, squatted over him, and shoved one of his filthy hands into Lincoln’s mouth to gag him.

Snatcher yanked Sawyer out of the building.

Lincoln’s screams turned to agonized gurgles. Sawyer fought, swinging his arms ineffectually. Snatcher tightened his hold. When they were clear of the alley, Snatcher sat and pulled Sawyer down with him, wrapping his neck in a bear choke.

“They are gang raping him,” gasped Sawyer, struggling against the hold.

“Obviously,” said Snatcher, tightening his arms around him. “He’s been pocketing money. He’ll have to pay for that. Ain’t nothin’ nobody can do about it. It’s best if you mind your own business or you’ll find yourself on the floor of that garage in the same position, Jon.”

Sawyer quit struggling and lay against Rat’s chest, panting and trembling.

Snatcher loosened his hold slightly. “That’s right. Jonathan Tyler, fifteen. That’s what the flyer said, you little twit. How the hell do you get the name Sawyer out of that?” He jerked Sawyer, aka Jon, firmly against his chest and tightened the bear choke.

Jon squirmed and kicked against the pavement trying to loosen Rat’s hold on him. “My name is Sawyer. Who are you anyway?”

“Yeah, that’s a good question, isn’t it? One I’m not going to share with you. This is what’s going to happen next. That hungry crowd back there is expecting you to crawl back to them with some sense beaten into you. Guess that falls on me.”

“Who are you!” screamed Sawyer, trying to twist out of Snatcher’s arms.

“I’m the guy that’s going to teach you just what you stepped into. Stand up.” Snatcher let him go, stood, and backed away two steps.

Sawyer scrambled to his feet, swaying on the corner like someone who was too drunk to see straight. Snatcher crouched in a fighting position, one leg back and angled for good balance. Recognizing the basic stance in mixed-martial arts, Sawyer mirrored him, but he couldn’t focus.

Snatcher sent a forward jab against his right shoulder and knocked him to the ground. “Get up,” he ordered.

Sawyer put his feet under him and rose.

Snatcher jabbed his cheek.

Sawyer’s head flew back and he fell flat against the cement. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, he saw stars.

Snatcher straddled him, hand held out for him to take. Sawyer took it. Snatcher, pulled him up, threw his arms around him, and rolled. He locked Sawyer’s right knee between his legs.

Sawyer’s leg muscle bunched into a Charlie horse and he screamed, “Aaugh. Stop. Stop.”

Snatcher held tight.

Sawyer’s leg slowly relaxed and with it, the fight went out of him.

Snatcher did not release him. “Detroit’s a long way to come from Stockton. What are you running from?”

Sawyer hunched a shoulder, the only part of his body he dared move.  

“Not an answer,” said Rat Snatcher. For good measure, he pulled Sawyer’s body into a tight bear hug. The pressure pulled against his trapped leg, causing pain. It also caused Sawyer’s breath to whoosh out of him in a grunt. Then Snatcher let him go and sat on the sidewalk next to him.

Sawyer rolled onto his belly and lay there, too stunned to get off the ground. He mumbled, “What now?”

“Now you tell me where you’ve been all night.”

Sawyer wiped his nose with his fingers. They came away bloody. “Here, in the alley.”

Snatcher slapped his back.

Outraged, Sawyer sat up and faced him.

“I don’t appreciate it when people lie to me,” said Snatcher, backhanding Sawyer’s chest. “I saw you run out of the alley last night. You’ve been gone hours.”

Sawyer shook his head and pushed away from Snatcher, putting some distance between them.

“Not going to talk? Let me see if I can fill you in. Evan talked you into taking some money to Emilia Rodriguez, Sobrina Morelli’s midwife. You delivered that money, but you never came out of the building. Where did you go? Obviously, the Morelli brothers didn’t catch you, although Sobrina and Emilia were hauled outta there pretty fast.” He stared at Sawyer.

Sawyer stared back.

“Okay. I will finish the story then. You ran out the back window and down the fire escape. However, that was hours ago, and it doesn’t take that long to get from there to here. So I will say it again, where were you?”

Sawyer bent over his knees and grabbed the back of his neck with his hands. Who was this guy and why did he care so much?

“We can’t sit here much longer waiting. I’ll be late again. Hawg, our esteemed cook, threatened to throw me in the cages, and I have to stay outta there to get done what I need to do.”

Sawyer looked up, still crouched beneath the shelter of arms thrown over his head. “Why do you care?” 

“I do, that’s it. That’s all you need to know. I told you Hawg and I will look after you, but if you can’t be straight with me, I gotta cut you loose. A run-away puts a monkey wrench in my plans.”

“How, how did you find out?”

“My business. Assume I know a lot. You still have that money I gave you?”


“Now we go back and face the consequences. First thing you gotta do is pay Marchesi. He thinks you’ve been working. You owe him.”

Sawyer looked up. “Why? Why do I own him?” Sawyer had a suspicion but refused to wrap his mind around it. “Why did you give me this money?”

Rat Snatcher scrubbed his face with both hands. “Oh my god, kid. He thinks you ran out of the venue last night to go with the man in the brown suit. Why do you think I gave you money to give to Charlie? That is how much you are worth, at least for a good blow job.” 

Sawyer crawled to the curb and gagged. The only thing he had left to heave was air.

“You shittin’ me?” said Rat. “Haven’t you been payin’ attention? Marchesi owns every fool’s ass in this place.”

Had Marchesi been in the garage directing the attack on Lincoln? Sawyer didn’t see him there. 

His face must have shown his surprise because Snatcher said, “That’s right. Who do you think ordered that little display of affection?” His voice dripped with sarcasm, but it didn’t make Sawyer feel any better or any less scared for Lincoln.

“He owns that mob, he owns that boy on the floor, he owns Hawg, he owns me. He owns you.” Snatcher stretched a leg and kicked the sole of Sawyer’s shoe.

That was the last straw for Sawyer. Defeat crashed down on him. He felt no bigger than the beetle scuttling across the sidewalk away from the heat of his body.

Snatcher’s face softened. “I have your back, but you are my bitch now. You go where I say you go, you run when I say you run, and you hide when I say you hide. I can keep you safe, but only if you follow my lead. You hear me, Bitch?”

Sawyer gulped and nodded. He sure as hell didn’t want to end up on the floor of that garage at the mercy of Marchesi’s mob. Who was Rat Snatcher? What did being his bitch mean? Rat Snatcher extended his hand to help him off the ground.

Sawyer took it.  

Little Mouse

The long bus ride from Stockton, the demands of his first paid job, and the stress of calling his father had exhausted him. Sawyer needed to decompress. Calling Dad had been more of an emotional experience than running away to Detroit. He grabbed an empty bucket from the kitchen and went out the back door. The alley was empty. Careful to prop the door with the brick that was there for that purpose, he stomped down the back stairs, and set the bucket against the wall in the alley behind the staircase. It was relatively quiet except for the expected city noise. He sat on the bucket and stared at his feet, grateful to be blessedly alone.

Why stay? He had a few dollars in his pocket. Marchesi had not paid as much as he expected, but his debt was covered. However, he wasn’t any better off than he was when he arrived last night. He didn’t have enough money to set up another situation. At least here, he had a job that paid for a cot and a daily meal, and Marchesi offered him a second shift.

A loud bang reverberated through the streets. Sawyer crouched against the building in the corner between it and the staircase. How fast could he scurry back into Marchesi’s Bar and Grill?

Scurry…like a little mouse, Topino. The tattooed man had given him that nickname when he woke Sawyer this morning. He sat up a little. The noise was probably backfire from an old engine.

The back door banged against the wall when Rat Snatcher stormed out.

Again, Sawyer crouched as the noise reverberated around the alley. Don’t look this way, he thought. Rat was a whisper-in-your-ear kind of guy, and Sawyer needed some peace.

“Hey, Topino. Whatcha doin’ out here?” said Rat.

So much for peace. Sawyer sat up. “The name’s Sawyer,” he said, as anger flared at the nickname.

“Yeah, whatever. Answer my question,” said Rat, as he jogged down the steps.

“Just taking a breather.” Sawyer stood, tall and straight.

“Yeah, well you’re gonna need it,” said Rat, standing in front of him, close enough for Sawyer to feel his words when he added, “The night shift is rough.”

The morning shift was a brutal learning curve, but Sawyer had survived it. How much worse could a night shift be?

“There’s a meet tonight, big money, lots of clients. You know what I mean?” Rat, playfully punched his cheek.

No. Sawyer had no idea.

As Rat moved a step closer, Sawyer shrank the wall.

Rat’s face darkened, and his voice lowered when he said, “Word of advice? Don’t look into the eyes of the people you serve. That’s an invitation. Keep your mouth shut, just… don’t engage them. If you can do that, you’ll come out unscathed.” Rat pushed a button on the key fob he held in his hand. In the distance, a car beeped. Rat slapped the railing, then, poked Sawyer in the chest. “Just keep your head down.”

Rat jogged out of the alley.

What the fuck was he talking about? Keep your head down? No problem, head down, mouth shut, don’t look. How hard was that? Sawyer settled back onto the bucket. As the day cooled to sunless gray, he was confident the evening shift would be easier, even though a little voice in the back of his mind whispered, fool. But if he ran into real trouble, he could call Jack again.

Could he? Would he be brave this time and speak up?

Hearing his father’s voice had spooked him. He wasn’t a little mouse, not a little mouse. He was almost a man. No way would he let his father send him back to Stockton.

He shifted on the bucket and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. Tucked inside, next to the measly ten-dollar bill, was a worn and ragged piece of stationery, a letter from his father. He didn’t need to read it again; he had it memorized by now. Jack had written it after his last visit because during it, they barely said two words to each other. In it, his father had apologized that they hadn’t taken more time to get to know one another again. He was sorry he hadn’t made more of an effort to stay in touch. Sawyer didn’t know his father, didn’t know how to talk to him. Rick, his older brother, shared camaraderie with Jack Tyler that Sawyer just didn’t feel. Most times, Sawyer never thought about his dad, but every time he did, anger clogged his throat until he felt like screaming. He slipped the letter back into his wallet and stuffed his wallet back into his back pocket.

So, sue him, he had hung up on his father. He didn’t need to run to Daddy. He could make due here until he figured out something better for himself.

A shiny black CT6 with windows tinted black pulled into the shadows at the end of the alley. Fear frizzled through him, so he hunkered into his corner once again. He lifted his head just enough to peek over the landing.

The door opened and a young woman stepped out. Her clothing floated around her body like a diaphanous cloud, giving her an air of seduction that hit him in the gut. As soon as she shut the door, the driver gunned the engine and the car leapt away from her, tires squealing. She stared toward its departure, presumably watching to see where it went.

She flipped her heavy, dark hair behind her. It cascaded into place like liquid, black silk. She turned and began walking toward him. Her hips swayed, her heavy breasts rolled. Each step sent shivers of delight through him. Sawyer’s fear slipped away, and he sat straight up, heart pounding with a different emotion. As she neared, her eyes knocked him breathless. Dark pools of coffee, ringed with fire, flashed danger he didn’t understand until that fire ignited his manhood. Embarrassed, he pulled his shirt as low as he could.   

“Hello?” she said.

He stared, her captive.

“Excuse me,” she said again.

He stood slowly, careful to pull the hem of his shirt lower.

“Do you speak English?” she asked. “English?”

“Uh, uh, yes. Yes, I speak English,” he finally said.

“I came to see Evan?”

“Evan?” He had not met anyone named Evan. “I-I don’t know who that is, but if you wait right here, I can get someone who does.”

She turned as if to look back at the car even though it was not at the end of the alley. As she did, her swollen, turgid belly was very apparent under her flowing clothes. When she saw that he noticed, she covered it as best as she could with her arms. “Evan,” she repeated, “I want Evan.”

Sawyer motioned to the bucket and offered it to her. She eased herself onto it, and said, “Grazie.”

“Uh, you’re welcome. I’ll be right back.”

He ran up the stairs and banged into the kitchen. It was empty. He heard men talking in the bar.

Marchesi and his men sat at a table in the far corner speaking heatedly in a different language. They quit talking and stood when he stepped into the room.

“What do you want, Topino?” said the tattooed man.

“There is a woman in the alley that wants to see someone named Evan,” said Sawyer.

Marchesi pounded a fist on the table. “Take care of it,” he ordered.

The tattooed man strode toward Sawyer. As he passed, he grabbed Sawyer’s arm and said, “Where is she?”

“She’s sitting out back, behind the staircase, on a bucket.”

Tattoo Man laughed and clapped his shoulder, but then he shoved Sawyer forward. “Introduce me.”

“Uh, I don’t know her name.”

The tattooed man looked down at Evan’s crotch and laughed again. Evan pulled his shirt low.

“Heh, I do,” said the tattooed man.

Well, why then did he need an introduction? Sawyer stumbled after him, holding onto his shirt.

The girl was on the bucket, rubbing her swollen belly.

“Bree, che diavolo.” Tattoo Man rushed down the staircase and grabbed her, pulling her onto her feet. She tottered, unbalanced by the heavy load in her belly, and fell against his chest.

“Bitch,” he said, and shoved her.

She fell against the staircase, and her elbow hit it with a crack. Her eyes filled with tears. “I need to see Evan. His baby,” she looked at her belly. “She’s due and I need money for the curandera.”

Marchesi appeared in the doorway. “Why is the Morelli bitch still here,” he said in a threatening voice.

“Please, I just want to see Evan.” Tears flowed freely down her face.

“She needs money for the curandera,” said Sawyer, pleading with him.

Tattoo Face backhanded his mouth. It knocked him hard enough against the wall of the building that he saw stars and scraped the knuckles of one of his hands as he fell to ground at the base of the staircase. “This ain’t no business of yours,” he growled.

Tattoo grabbed the trembling girl and shook her. “Fuck the Morelli clan and their get. No one cares if Evan is the father. You hear me? Least of all, Evan.” He looked up at Marchesi.

Marchesi had murder on his face.

Tattoo Man grabbed the sobbing girl and hauled her down the alley. She fell once, landing hard on her knees and hands. As she struggled to her feet, Tattoo Man yelled back at them. “Bitch comes back here, she won’t live to regret coming.” Tattoo shoved her forward. By the grace of God, she remained on her feet. Sawyer, frozen, too horrified to look away, watched until the tattooed man and the scared, pretty girl were around the corner and out of sight.

He didn’t notice Marchesi who had walked down the steps until he offered his hand to help him up. He ran his thumb over Sawyer’s lower lip. It came away bloodied. “Get yourself cleaned up. There is a lot to do tonight, and I expect you to show well.”

“Show well?”

“Yeah. You’re running drinks tonight at a meet. Put on some clean clothes.” He walked up the steps and disappeared into the bar.

Sawyer slowly followed. He couldn’t get the sobbing girl out of his mind. He failed her. He hated that he had not protected her. Who was Evan and where in hell was he?

Was Evan the boy that Marchesi’s men carried up the stairs last night? At first sight of him, Sawyer thought that the boy was dead, but then he heard his labored breathing. His face was a nightmare of bruises and rips. It made the couple of beatings that Sawyer had endured at Stagg High School seem like mild harassment. The tattooed man seemed enraged, Marchesi was yelling. Sawyer had run back to his closet to hide.

He looked toward the apartment above the bar. Upon consideration, it was probably why Tattoo Man had dubbed him ‘Topino.’

He went back to that closet now and sat on the cot. Which emotion was burning hotter: shame, anger, or fear? What kind of person stands by and watches while a crazy man beats a girl? Why didn’t he see the strike coming toward his own face? How did he let Tattoo Man get him like that? Where was his head? He needed to grow some balls.

God, Marchesi looked at him like, like…he didn’t want to think about how Marchesi looked at him. He was beginning to suspect that Marchesi did not have altruism in mind when he rented this room. What the fuck did he want? To be truthful, the danger he felt the moment he walked into the pub intrigued him, and was in part, the reason he stayed for a second shift.

And now, the wheel turned back to shame. Why didn’t he keep walking last night?

“Hey, Sawyer.” There was a knock against the wall. “Hey, Topino.”

Dammit. Rat was back. It was probably time to go and he hadn’t changed his clothes.

Where is the Evidence

Captain Jamison, nicknamed ‘Grizzly’ because of his gruff manner, was an imposing man, both physically and metaphorically. He had to be. Growing up in Detroit was tough in the sixties, and for decades after the 1967 riots, anyone who wanted to be somebody had to fight for a place to thrive. He was one of the lucky ones. His father had owned a profitable business in Black Bottom. He was used to community support, and in all his time as a street cop, he never forgot that support. He returned it to his community then, and now to his officers, but still his mannerisms intimidated most of them. Not Maureen Thompson, she had fought her way to the top as well, and loved him as one loves a dear, favorite uncle who has led the way to success.

She knocked on his door before she opened it.

“Come in,” he growled.

He sat slumped over a stack of reports on his desk, disheveled and pale, as if he held the world upon his shoulders, and as such, it was a fight he couldn’t win.

“You okay, Cap?” she said.

He sat up and attempted to smile at her. “Fine. Just fine.”

He could say that, but she was under no obligation to believe him.

Jack stepped into the office after her. Jamison placed both hands on his desk as if by doing so he could gather strength from it. He sighed and said, “What do you two want?”

“We wanted to talk to you about the cases we are working on,” said Maureen.

“I’ve just finished your reports. What I want to know,” he glared at Jack, “is why I have a report from an officer who is supposed to be on medical leave.”

Maureen said, “My fault. I called him last night. Got a call while on scene at a murder.”

“This one.” He picked up a file. “Says here, there was a body dump at the river.”

“That’s where the evidence points. A Taiwanese boy, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, maybe nineteen, stabbed and left there for us to find. While there, I received a second call about another boy. He didn’t make it home last night.”

Jack spoke. “Evan Fischer, nineteen. He’s been missing nearly twenty hours now.”

“I called Jack because I was working with rookies last night, Cap. Didn’t want to send them on a missing child case.”

“Why do I get the feeling you two think these cases are connected?”

Jack looked at Maureen. She took a deep breath when she caught his eye, and said, “Well, we have two witnesses down the hall that seem suspiciously connected to both of them. One is a cashier from the same Walgreens where Evan Fischer works. I pulled her in because she lied about picking up a prescription for Percocet for the boy. It’s a heavy painkiller. It suggests that Jack’s suspicion that he’s been in a fight is correct.”

“That weird second sight thing?”

“Yes,” said Jack.

“But no direct visual evidence.”

“None, Sir,” said Jack. He added, “The second witness is the manager for that same Walgreens.”

“What’s his story?” said Jamison, rubbing his jaw.

“He recognizes the tattoos on Maureen’s Taiwanese boy.”

“He told you that?” said Jamison.

“No, but it is very obvious he recognizes the tats.”

“So this manager knows both Evan Fischer, who you believe has injuries, and the dead Taiwanese boy, who also, according to these photos, was in quite a fight. And in your minds, without any evidence to corroborate this collaboration, these two cases are linked because….” Captain Jamison pursed his lips.

Jack stuttered, “J-j-just let us continue.”

Jamison waved him on.

“During my interview with Heathe, he confirmed a tip that Maureen got from him earlier in the day when she interviewed him at the store. Evan has a girlfriend named Bree. Coincidentally, a girl named Sobrina Morelli –.”

“Let me interrupt you. The Morelli gang?”

“Not confirmed, but possible. She quit Walgreens before Christmas, which is why Evan now has a full time position there. The manager says she was pregnant and looked beat up, but he wouldn’t confirm it. Says she might have fallen.”

“Which is it, beat up or injured falling?” said Jamison.

Maureen said, “We have yet to confirm, Sir.”

“Seems that a lot still needs to be confirmed. Well, Balmario’s team has been following the Morellis. His report says there was a possible retaliatory event last night that may have included one or two of their members. Did either of your witnesses bring that up?”

Maureen said, “No.”

“How long have they been in the hold?” said Jamison.

Jack said, “Almost two hours now.”

“Hold the cashier for obstruction.”

Maureen said, “Captain, I’d like to release her and put a tail on her. If Evan Fischer is really the one taking the Percocet, she may lead us back to him.”

“Done. We have three undercovers on the street. I will let them know.”

“Thank you.”

“I think we can put some pressure on Heathe, the other witness, Sir,” said Jack.

Jamison stared at Jack, waiting for him to continue.

“He frequently makes purchases to indulge in, in the back offices of Walgreens.” Jack made a semi-obscene pumping gesture with his hand.

Jamison scowled. “He told you this?”

Maureen said, “No, Emilia Rodriguez, the cashier, indicated as much.”

“That’s hearsay,” said Jamison.

Jack said, “Yes, but she says everyone knows. We can corroborate.”

Jamison looked at Jack, but pointed to Maureen. “She can corroborate. You can take advantage of your sick leave. You’re outta here.”

“Sir,” said Jack, squirming. “I’m just trying to help.”

“And I appreciate it, but I need you at your best. If you are seeing this with your mojo, I need your head clear, and your partner, bless his heart, is not in any shape to be helping you with this. Take care of him first.”

Maureen looked at Jack and shrugged her shoulders.

Jamison told her, “Let the cashier go, but put the fear of God into her. Hold Heathe. Let Vice work him. If they can prove his indiscretions, we can hold him; otherwise, we have to let him go. In the meantime maybe someone should find Sobrina Morelli.”

“Yes Captain. We’ll get right on it,” said Maureen.

“You’ll get right on it. He’s outta here.”

As Jack stood to leave, someone knocked on Captain Jamison’s door.

“What now,” he said. “Come in.”

An officer from Dispatch stepped into the office waving a piece of paper. “Just in, a BOLO from the FBI in Stockton, California, CARD division.” CARD was an acronym for Child Abduction Rapid Deployment. He handed it to Jamison.

“Wonderful,” Jamison said, sarcastically. “We have another missing boy. Have either of you seen this one?” He showed them the picture.

Jack fell into his chair. Maureen grabbed his forearm and took the flyer. “Yes, Captain. This is one of our own. Jonathan Tyler is Jack’s son.”

Captain looked at Jack with a laser-focused stare that pinned him to the chair. “Your plate is full. Get outta here.”

“Yessir,” said Jack who attempted to stand. It was clear he was in shock. Maureen held onto his arm as he shuffled toward the door.

“Get him out of here, and don’t let him come back,” said Jamison.

“Got it,” said Maureen as she hauled Jack out the door.

He leaned against the outer wall.

“You okay?” said Maureen.

He scrubbed his face and then grabbed his hair. “Gotta see Tomi,” he said.

“Go, Jack. Get out of here. We’ll find your boy, Jack. You know we will.”

She clapped him on the shoulder and left him glued to the wall where he stood, trying to regain some strength to move again.

She couldn’t imagine what Jack was feeling right now. All she could see was her own little one, waving goodbye this morning at the window. She would do everything in her power to save her little Michael from such a fate.

She had no doubt that Jack would do the same. 

This is Personal

Jack Tyler hated it when people hung up on him. How many seconds did it take to be polite, to say, “I’m sorry. Wrong number?” As a police officer, he now felt obligated to follow up on the call in case someone was in an abusive situation. He glanced at Tom, who slept soundly, tucked safely into a hospital bed. The beep of the monitor was steady and reassuring.

He redialed. He let it ring five times before he gave up. He replayed the call in his head. The person on the other end gasped. Why? Because he answered as the police, and the caller was not expecting that? Or had the person gasped because they had been caught? Dammit. What other sounds had he heard? A car passed. Bells jangled. People laughed in the background. Then the line went dead. This was ridiculous. He traced the call. It originated in a phone booth in North Corktown, probably in front of a bistro, or a bar. Someone misdialed and became flustered when Jack answered as the police. He wished whoever it was a safe day.

He walked back to the chair by Tom’s bed and sat down.

Tom’s head rolled toward him.

He took Tom’s hand. “Hey, Tomi. Are you waking up?”

There was no response.

Jack said, “Come on, Tomi. It’s time to wake up.” He gently shook Tom’s hand. He stared at his partner. The nurses had told him to keep talking. It didn’t matter what he said. Hearing his voice would be enough to awaken his partner. “I have news from California. Hank called. Told me my youngest son, Jon, ran away. Again. Again, Tomi. More than once. Can you believe that? He’s been gone for…” 

…a bus ride from Stockton to Detroit would take about thirty-five, thirty-six hours. Geezus. Could it have been Jon on the phone?

He squeezed Tom’s hand and said, “Hey, Fly. I have to make a quick run out of here. When I get back I will fill you in on everything.” He ran the backs of his fingers across Tom’s cheek and watched Tom breathe for a moment. Then he grabbed his keys and ran. 


He parked across the street from an establishment called Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The mysterious call had come from the phone booth in front. The place was quiet. There was a sign on the door that read, “Doors open at 4 pm.”

“Why would Jon call from here?” said Jack. 

He would use the booth at the Greyhound bus station, wouldn’t he? Maybe it was out of order. If Jon was the caller, why didn’t he say something when Jack answered? Jack muttered, “Because it wasn’t Jon, doofus.” 

Now that he’d thought it, he couldn’t get the notion out of his head. Jon was not a talker, especially on the phone. His son had never said more than a few words to him. If Jon had come this far, and if he had called, would he hang up the second he heard his father’s voice? It was possible. They didn’t know each other at all.  

Jack pulled back onto the street and drove a large loop that included the Greyhound  station. He didn’t expect to see Jon. Why would he? But it didn’t stop him from making a second loop. “Think, Jack. Which direction would he walk?”

He stopped at a light. “I would go downtown.”

Jack headed for the Avenue. A strong, young boy could have easily walked a mile or more by now. He scanned the storefronts looking for a brown-haired boy that looked like he did as a teenager: sullen expression, hair hanging over his eyes, tall and gangling.

Forty minutes later, he again pulled across from Marchesi Grubs and Suds and parked on the street. He did not have a current picture of Jon to show to anyone, so there was no reason to wander into the bar to question people. It wasn’t open until four, anyway.

He turned on his phone’s recorder. “Call Greyhound for a list of drivers on the route from Stockton. Call Meghan….” He rubbed his brows, soothing the angst that tightened there at the thought of having to speak to her. “Get a current picture from Stockton PD.” He shut his phone and leaned against the backrest.

Maybe Jon was inside a building when he passed the first time. Maybe he walked toward the river instead. Maybe he had a long-distance friend that picked him up. Jon could be anywhere. He could have gone to Sacramento again, or to Los Angeles this time. What if he went to San Francisco? San Francisco was where he was born. It seemed like a logical place to go. Why would he come all the way to Detroit without calling first?

Because, in Jack’s experience, sometimes kids ran away looking for an estranged parent. 

His phone buzzed. “Inspector Tyler, Detroit PD.” He hoped his phantom caller was on the line.

“Jack, it’s Maureen.”

His heart sank. 

“Dispatch out.” The line clicked between them.

“Jack? You there? There’s been a development. Can you come to the shop right now?”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m a few blocks away.”

“What’s going on?”

“Tell you when I see you.”


Maureen waited for Jack in the small booth behind the interrogation mirror, staring at the nervous woman sitting in the cell on the other side. Her clasped hands rested demurely on top of the cold metal table. Her body jiggled, probably because her feet were drumming the floor.

Due to a tip from one of the pharmacists at Walgreens, Maureen had pulled Emilia Rodriguez from her job as cashier. If the tipster was correct, Evan Fischer could be in a lot of trouble. Rodriguez’s boss, Rodney Heathe, had a shit fit, but honestly, she didn’t care. Maureen had pulled him off the job at the same time. He was fluffing his feathers in the box next to this one.

The door to the observation booth opened, and Jack stepped in.

“Jack, thanks for coming,” said Maureen. “How’s Tom?”

“Still out. I was in the neighborhood because I just found out my youngest son has run away. Can you believe that?”

“Oh Lordy, Jack.”

“This is the third time. No one notified me about the first or second times. Anyway, someone called while I was sitting with Tomi and then hung up. Never spoke a word. It was a long shot, but I had to check it out. I traced it to a booth in North Corktown.”

“Not far from the Greyhound station.”

“Exactly. Truthfully, I have no idea how Tom is doing right now, but I had to see if the call was from Jon. I have been driving around looking for him.”

“Geez, Jack. Should we put out a BOLO?”

“I don’t know that he’s here. He could be anywhere.”

Maureen fiddled with a torn slip of paper in her hand.

“What is that?” said Jack.

“I don’t know. I found it on my windshield under a wiper. It was there when I left Walgreens the first time this morning. I thought I would show it to our guests to see if they recognize the handwriting.”

She handed the note to Jack. He turned it twice before settling it to read. “It’s really hard to read. It looks like it says, ‘Go ask…it looks like Alice or Allis.”


“On your windshield?”


“Someone put it there.”

“Had to. There was no other way for it to be stuck under the wiper like that. I could use a second on these interviews. You up for it?”

He said, “Yes.”

Maureen nodded to the mousy woman in the booth. “This one is a cashier at Walgreens. She apparently picked up a pain prescription for Evan Fischer yesterday evening.”

“Oh.” Jack nodded. “Then, it was Evan’s battered face I saw, asleep on a pillow.”

“Seems so. Anyway, when I spoke to her at Walgreens this morning, she denied knowing him, explained she was only part-time, and didn’t speak much to other employees. That may be true at work,” said Maureen, “but if my informant was correct, Emilia returned after her shift the day before, to purchase a full script of Percocet prescribed for Evan Fischer.”

“It seems you did not get the truth this morning.”

“Not from either one of them.”

Jack’s left eyebrow raised in question.

“Tell you about that after we interview this one.”  

Jack and Maureen entered the small interrogation room. Emilia Rodriguez shrank into her chair, more mousy and terrified than before.  

As they sat across from her, Jack said, “Senora Rodriguez, I have to notify you that we are recording this interview.” He set his phone on the table.

She nodded.

Maureen said, “Tell us what you know about Evan Fischer.”

“Is he in trouble?”

“Yes, I think he is, and I think you know that,” said Maureen. The mother tiger rumbled in her chest.

Rodriguez’s eyes jumped from side to side as if she was watching for cars before crossing a road.

Maureen said, “Just tell us what you know.”

“Nothing.” She shook her head back and forth. “Nothing.”

“Ma’am,” said Jack. “You lied to my colleague this morning. Why did you purchase a prescription for a boy you don’t know?”

Emilia Rodriguez was a clam, locked tight and uncommunicative.

Maureen slipped the scrap of paper with the cryptic writing across the table. “Is this yours?

Emilia shook her head, no.

Jack said, “Do you know what obstruction is?”

She said, “Yes, yes, I know.”

Maureen said, “Who is this? Did he or she ask for the prescription?”

Emilia curled over the table.

“Was the prescription for Evan?”

Emilia rocked into the table and away, again and again, counterpoint to the side-to-side jumping of her eyes.

Maureen reached across the table and laid a hand upon her arm. The poor woman stopped rocking, though her eyes continued to jump. Maureen said, “Was – the – prescription – for Evan?”

Emilia moaned, “I just run errands. That is it.”

Jack said, “If this is a forged prescription, we can charge you with accessory. You really need to talk to us.”

Maureen said, “Who? Whose prescription was it?”

Emilia Rodriguez sat tall and focused squarely into Maureen’s eyes. “I have nothing to say.”

Like a cat watching a mouse, Jack stared at Emilia Rodriguez.

Maureen very much wanted to know what was going on in that head of his. She said to Emilia Rodriguez, “You relax here a moment.” 

Emilia said, “Thank you,” and closed her eyes.

To Jack she said, “We need to speak to one another.”

The second they were outside the door, Jack said, “No. I am not seeing through her eyes.”

“Okay. I wasn’t going to ask that,” she said.

“Oh, well…I was trying to figure that out.”

Maureen had learned when last she worked with him that Jack often saw details of a crime while it was in progress. He saw it as if he were there, looking through the eyes of someone who was involved.

Jack mumbled, “I know. It’s a weird affliction.”

“Strength, Jack. It’s a weird strength. When are you going to realize that?”

He shrugged and stared at Emilia. “Poor woman. She is terrified.”

“The question is, by whom?”

“She’s resolute. Whomever she is protecting means a lot to her. She isn’t going to tell us anything,” said Jack.

Was it unwillingness to speak to a cop, or simple furtiveness? Maureen didn’t feel any waves of guilt off her. However, she said, “I don’t believe she was only an errand runner.”

“Agreed,” said Jack.

“I don’t get the impression that she acted out of mischief,” she added.

“So, what is your choice here?” said Jack.

“Well, I can arrest her for obstruction, but what is the point? She isn’t the one we want, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Jack said.

“I could put a tail on her. Maybe she will lead us to Evan.”

“Why don’t you let her sit here while we speak to the manager? We can decide after that,” said Jack.

Phone Call and a Newspaper

Sawyer sat upon an overturned five-gallon bucket in a corner of the kitchen near the door. Shaking uncontrollably, he wolfed down the mess of eggs, pancakes, and bacon that Marchesi’s cook, Hawg, had set aside for him. His stomach would hurt afterward, but the attitudes of the men around him precluded relaxed consumption. Hawg continued ranting about Rat’s late arrival, and Rat repeatedly told him to fuck off. In between spats, Rat winked at Sawyer.

Sawyer’s unease grew each time he did.

There was a newspaper under his feet. He bent to read while he ate in an attempt to distract himself from the aggressive bickering going on around him. A headline read – “Vampire of Detroit in Custody.”


Early Monday evening, Detroit’s 12th Precinct caught the serial killer known as the Vampire of Detroit. During a sting to catch him, Nathaniel Browne, a young man in his mid-twenties, was injured during the shootout, which ended his murder spree, but not before he took the lives of four good citizens of Detroit.

Two officers were injured, another killed in the altercation with a gun that belonged to a member of Browne’s family. Police declined to name the family member.

One of our finest, Officer M. Assari suffered fatal gunshot wounds during the capture. He is survived by his wife and two children. Two other officers were gravely injured, but our sources state that recovery is expected for the youngest, a rookie new to the unit. 

At the time of publication, the second officer, a junior detective in the unit, remains at risk and is in the ICU fighting for his life. This news team will keep you updated on his status.


12th Precinct? For some reason, he remembered that his father worked for the 12th precinct. Was his father involved with this? Two officers were injured, a rookie and a junior officer. Dad wasn’t a rookie. He wasn’t a junior either. Pushing the paper with his foot, he scooted the article behind him, out of sight.

Hawg interrupted his musings and grabbed the tray of mostly eaten food from him just as Marchesi stuck his head through the kitchen door and hollered, “Five minutes before nine, people.”

Sawyer looked at Hawg. Hawg said, “Construction crews come in during their first break to eat second breakfasts.” He shoved the tray at Sawyer’s chest and said, “Get this cleaned up and get out there. You’re bussing tables.”

Marchesi’s customers were jovial. It was an easy routine. Set a table; pour water and or coffee as customers sat. Give them twenty minutes, then clear, clean, and reset. Sawyer quickly learned that the ten dollars placed on the table for the meal did not include tips for him. Snatcher, acting as cashier, dropped the extra, after tax, into a jar for the ‘regulars.’

“You is a squatter,” Snatcher informed him.

The morning rush lasted until eleven, when a second wave came in wanting a late breakfast. An older couple came in about fifteen minutes after the hour and sat near the hallway. They chatted about the latest news, and about the Vampire Killer who had murdered the lovely woman and her daughter the next block over.

“That poor man, losing his wife and daughter,” said the woman.

The man reached for her hand and as he grabbed it, he said, “He’s locked up for good now, dear.” Sawyer presumed he was her husband. “I hope that fella who stopped him lives.”

Sawyer couldn’t help himself. “Are you talking about the junior cop?”

“My goodness,” said the woman, apparently unaware he’d been standing close enough to hear.

“I’m sorry,” said Sawyer. “Can I get you more coffee?”

The man said, “Yes, that would be fine.”

The woman reached for him. “Yes, dear, I am worried about the officer. So brave.”

Her husband patted her arm as she looked at Sawyer with sympathy in her eyes.


By the end of what most would call the lunch rush, Marchesi locked the door behind the last patron. To Sawyer he said, “Good job. My customers seemed relaxed around you. Get this place swept, mopped, and set up for tonight and your shift is over. Meet me out back when you’re done.”

Sawyer, who looked forward to getting his money, said, “Okay.”

He made short work of readying the space for the evening crowd. As he carried a tray of condiments into the kitchen, Hawg was setting up a sandwich assembly of some sort. “Boss is out back,” he said.

Sawyer took off the apron but hesitated as he realized he did not know where to put it.

“Laundry gets picked up outside,” said Hawg.

The heavy back door was propped open with a rubber door stop. Sawyer slowly shut it, careful that the stopper stayed put. The can marked ‘laundry’ was open below the stairs. He dropped the apron over the banister on top of dirty towels and greasy rags. Marchesi, surrounded by a group of men, stood beyond the dumpsters, smoking a cigar. The heavy scent wasn’t apparent until Sawyer stepped off the stairs into the paved alley. It reminded him of his grandpa, Hank.

“Hey,” said Marchesi. “Here’s the man of the hour.” He waved at Sawyer, as he ambled toward the group of men. .

The tattooed man who woke him, sneered at him again. “Topino. Good to see you awake.”

Having asked Hawg during a quick break what it meant, Sawyer took offense. He was not a ‘little mouse.’

The tattooed man clapped him on the shoulder. “It’s all in fun, bambino. All in fun.”

Marchesi handed him a fiver and a ten, fifteen dollars total.

Yes, he needed to pay for the room, but by his calculations, only ten dollars. Surely he earned more pay than this. He said, “What’s this for?”

Marchesi grinned. “I paid you even. Thirty-two dollars minus the ten you owe me for the room, plus the $2.50 for coffee last night, and the cost of one of the sandwiches being set up as we speak. Breakfast was free as promised.”

“I worked seven and a half hours,” said Sawyer, holding the two bills in his open palm.

The men standing around Marchesi started laughing.

A broad-shouldered, black man said, “This ain’t California, Boy. Ain’t no where here you going make fifteen dolla’ an hour.”

“How much did I make an hour?” said Sawyer.

“Four twenty-five,” said Marchesi. “The going rate. You aren’t a regular, so I paid you under the table. That way you get the whole thing.” He winked.

Was Marchesi expecting joyful gratitude? Sawyer had slaved in that kitchen.

Marchesi smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, look on the bright side. Your bill is paid.”

Yes it was. But after a full shift of hard work, he had half of what he started with. It was better than having nothing left, he guessed. He folded the bills and stuffed them into his front pocket.

Marchesi said, “Got a job here, if you want it. Evening shift starts in a while. It’ll help you pay for another night.”

Another night? What a racket. However, where else did he have to go? The chance of meeting another Sailboat Tim was about as probable as finding a four leaf clover in a field of lilies. He’d have to work two shifts a day to stay afloat. Is this how it was supposed to work? How did anybody make it in this world?

He could call his father, but with all his being, he didn’t want to do that. There had to be a better solution. He didn’t have to eat more than once a day. He could forget the sandwich. That would save money. Not much probably, maybe seven dollars. Who was he kidding? He was starving again.

Sawyer was 2,300 plus miles from home with no money and this man was offering him a job. Why was he so hesitant? He handed Marchesi the five dollar bill. “Can I get change for this? I need a few quarters.”

“Gonna call his mamma,” said Tattoo Face.

“Fuck off,” blurted Sawyer.

Tattoo Face rounded on him, grabbed the neck of his tee shirt, and jerked him close. “Don’t get sassy with me, Mouse. I’ll slap yo’ ears.”

“Easy now,” said Charlie. He pulled the tattooed man off Sawyer. “Sure, baby, you can have some change,” he said, patting Sawyer’s cheek.

“Ooh. Charlie’s got hisself a new chick,” said one of the men.

“I’ll slap your ears,” Charlie growled.

“Sorry, boss,” said the man.

Sawyer followed Charlie to the register where he exchanged the bill and handed him the change.

“Phone booth is out front,” he said. “Here’s the phone book.” He plopped it onto the counter.

Sawyer took the book with him to the phone booth. He found the number for the 12th Precinct, dialed, and asked for his father. He twiddled with the cord as he waited to connect.

The phone rang twice before someone answered in a deep, bass voice. “Inspector Tyler. How may I help you?”

Sawyer held his breath. Because he had answered, he knew his father was not the officer fighting for his life in a hospital bed. He was probably sitting in his car somewhere doing whatever a detective does. Did he dare say hello? If he did, Jack Tyler would call his mother. She would send Phillip. Phillip would yank his ass back to Stockton. His life would be over.

“Hello? This is Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler, Detroit PD? Hello?”

Sawyer hung up.

As he walked away from the booth, he heard the phone ring. He didn’t care. He was going to work the dinner shift and be happy about his good fortune. As he stepped back into the bar, Charlie Marchesi smiled at him.


A Moment of Peace

Maureen Thompson pulled into her driveway and set the brakes. She clung to the wheel of her dusty car, hanging on with the intensity of someone who knew how one senseless act could rip away all that she had. Where was the family of the young Taiwanese teen who lay in cold storage while they investigated his death? Were they in this country? Did they go to work every morning acutely aware of his absence? Did they come home every evening hoping to see him, to be devastated all over again with hopes unrealized? Were they in Taiwan looking deep into the eyes of each person they met, searching for recognition that they belonged to a boy those persons may have seen during their travels? Had he left of his own free will, or had someone stolen him? Either way, he left a family behind that was now broken.

Her porch light was on, small, but welcoming. Her tabby sat on the front step preening. It looked up as if to say, “Come on in.”  She imagined her two dogs curled in sleep upstairs upon a child’s bed. The house itself was dark, except for a dull, flicking light pulsing against the curtains in the front room. Larry, her husband, had been on the road for weeks. He was probably sleeping in a cramped position on the couch in an attempt to wait up for her.

Brutal, replayed memories of seeing the Taiwanese teen thrown away like trash at the river’s edge receded into the background as she deliberately let go of the day. She opened her car door and carefully closed it so it clicked shut.

The tabby waltzed down the steps and shimmied around her legs as she reached down to stroke its fur before she climbed the steps.

She quietly closed the solid front door behind her, and without making a sound, slipped her keys into the glazed ceramic bowl on the entry table. She glanced into the living room where a wall of photos told the story of her life, starting with black and white childhood photos of her and her husband, colorful photos of their marriage and family milestones, culminating with current photos of each of her children. One of Larry’s slippers peeked over an arm of the stuffed leather couch. Otherwise, there was no way to tell that anyone was watching the soundless infomercial that played across the wide screen TV that flickered over the fireplace.

Maureen hung her coat on the coat rack next to the table, and unbuckled her gun. This she placed in a locked safe in a cupboard under the staircase that led to the upstairs bedrooms. She slipped off her shoes and lined them up against the wall under the first step. It was one of her habits, in case there was an emergency call.

“Maureen?” Larry gruffled. She glanced his way. He was hanging onto the back of the couch, holding himself upright. He smiled. His wild unkempt mop flopped over one eye, and a scruffy shadow darkened his slack and sleep-dented cheeks. Anyone else would think he was someone who was still half asleep, but she saw fire sparkling in his eyes.

“It’s me, Baby. How long have you been out here?”

“Since the kids fell asleep. What time is it?”

“Late.” She sank into the couch next to him, pulled the scrunchie from her hair, and then vigorously scratched her scalp.

Larry smiled softly.

She grabbed his hand and leaned her head on the back cushion, grateful to be home.

“I’m glad you’re safe,” he said. “Tough night?”

She rolled her head to face him and smiled. “I’m sorry our reunion night was wrecked.”

“No worries. You know that.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly.

She did know that. Larry knew exactly what he’d signed up for when they married during her cadet training. Three kids later, he still waited for her patiently. “You have no idea how appreciated you are,” she said, as she leaned against him.

“Really? How appreciated am I?” He smiled roguishly.

“Very.” She turned her body toward him and pressed her breasts against his shoulder. Tentatively, she kissed the corner of his smile.

“I see how it is,” he purred. He ran his fingers through her thick long hair.

“Yeah?” She arched her neck. His touch was heaven.

He wrapped her in his arms.

She melted into his solid heat and kissed him again.

Gently, but with the determination of a man who knew exactly what he wanted, he pushed her onto the couch and crouched over her, careful that he didn’t pinch her under him or pull her hair in anyway.

“Kiss me already,” she said, as her body responded to his considerations.

His lips touched hers, primly at first, but when she arched up against him, he deepened their union. A fire flared as she felt her body swell in response. When he lowered himself against her, she had no recourse but to rut against him.

“That’s it,” he growled. “Bedroom. Now.” He jumped off her and ran up the stairs. Maureen shook her head, heart palpitating at the thought of getting her night with him. She jumped up and raced after him, unbuttoning her company shirt as she did so.

It had been so long since the last time they were together that they both climaxed within minutes. She did not care. He lay next to her, the love of her life, and she was safe and had another day with him and with her children.

She felt the pull of sleep. However, she needed to wash away the case. One boy was dead, another missing. She couldn’t let go of the idea that somehow the two cases were related, though she had no reason to think it.

She carefully climbed out of their bed and stepped into the bathroom. She intended to turn on the water for a hot bath, but she heard a tiny voice behind her.

“Mom,” her six-year-old said.

She pulled her robe together and tied the sash around her waist. Then she turned, and gathered him in her arms. She walked back to his bedroom, whispering, “I missed you, lovey pumpkin. Did you have a nice day with Daddy?”

“Yes. Where were you?”

She laid him on his bed. “At work.” She pulled his blankets around him and lifted his stuffed owl off the floor.

He grabbed the toy and cuddled it. “Did you catch the bad guy, Mom?”

“Not yet, Honey, but I will. You go back to sleep. I will see you in the morning.”

He shut his eyes and snuggled under his blankets.

“Good boy, Michael,” she said. She kissed him on the forehead and ran her fingers through his hair. Of all her children, her youngest looked the most like his father. She gazed at him until his breathing deepened. Then she checked on her other two. They were both sleeping soundly with dogs at their feet.

Deciding that taking a bath upstairs would be too disruptive, she went back to her bedroom to gather a set of pajamas and her toiletries. She took them to the downstairs bathroom where her only choice was to shower. It would be fine. The hot water was what she really wanted, as hot as she could stand it in order to wash away the terror of investigating dead and missing teens. Her family deserved at least that much from her.



 A boy slung his backpack over one shoulder and reached for his jacket. As he did, a beefy man shoved past him, knocking him face forward onto the bench. He stopped his fall, one hand on the back of the bench, the other on the seat.

“Sorry,” grunted the man.

The boy grabbed his jacket, draped it over his shoulder, and followed him to the front of the Greyhound.

“Better put that on,” the bus driver said to him. “Detroit gets pretty chilly this time of year.”

The man turned on the steps and said, “Better listen to him. Feels like a refrigerator out here.”

He stopped, set his backpack on the seat behind the driver, and put on his letter jacket, blazoned in green and gold, the colors of his high school. No one here would recognize them. He’d sat thirty-five butt-numbing hours to get away.

When he stepped out of the bus, the driver followed him. “Hey, kid. The phone is over there.” He nodded to a lit booth on the west wall of the small depot.

“Yeah, okay. Thanks,” he said, but he had no one to call and nowhere to go. He looked at the lights of Downtown Detroit reflected on the water. “How many miles?” he said.

The driver grimaced. “To the downtown area? About five. Best call someone to pick you up.”

“Uh…okay, thanks.”

The boy walked toward the booth as the driver climbed into a parked vehicle and drove away. As soon as his car was around a corner, the boy set his sights on the lights of Downtown Detroit. He blew on his chilled fingers. Five miles wasn’t that far. He was a fast walker. He blew on his fingers again and stuffed them into his armpits. Walking would warm him.


Charlie Marchesi reverently polished the counter in his bar. He’d long since removed every fingerprint and smudge left by the evening patrons, but he needed time to think. One of his studs had worked a rival’s territory today and a brutal beating was his payment. The kid was useless until his face healed. Charlie’s loss amounted to $5,500 with medical bills and lost revenue. He loved this bar with its rich ambiance of masculinity, but it would not cover the loss. What he needed was another experienced stud because the rest of the colts in his stable were too green to make that kind of money.

He tapped the warm wood and glanced around his man cave. It was time to lock up. He glanced at the back wall with pictures of his kids, wayfarers that had stumbled in looking for a way out of whatever they were running from. He flicked off the “Open” light in the big picture window that framed the corner across the street. The rain had stopped and the pavement glistened with diamonds.

A young man stepped into the halo of the street lamp, illuminated as if spotlights had just turned on over center stage. He was tall and stood with strength, even though Charlie could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was shirking from his current situation. His dark hair and arched eyebrows stood out against his pale skin. The scruff of his beard outlined a strong jaw. He looked the part of a young god unsure of where he was, or what he was about.

Had serendipity knocked on his door? “Come this way, mister,” he said. “I have time for one more.”  He flicked the light on again and draped the polishing chamois over his shoulder while walking closer to the window to get a better look at him. “Come on. It’s warm in here. Get out of the cold.”

As if he heard Charlie’s words, he turned and looked at the glowing sign in Charlie’s dark window. His eyes were wide-set, though from this distance Charlie couldn’t read them. He could only read the man’s body movements, and something about the way he adjusted the pack on his shoulders and the garish green and gold jacket said ‘mature teenager’.

Serendipity rose, a questing snake peering over tall grass. The youngster just needed to come in. That’s all. Charlie would wrap him with something beneficial to both of them. “Come on, it’s open. There isn’t anything else. I bet you just got off the bus, didn’t you.”

The young man resettled his pack upon his shoulders, flipped up the collar on his jacket and strolled across the street toward Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.

Charlie moved to the far end of the counter where it was dark, becoming a simple barkeep cleaning up for the evening. The bell over the door tinkled as the young man walked in. Bold as brass he sat at the counter. It was a move calculated to feign maturity and hide the fact that the boy couldn’t be older than fifteen or sixteen.

Charlie’s breath hitched. God, he was beautiful. He could hardly wait to hear the tale this one was going to spin. He approached. “How can I help you?”

 “Something hot,” said the young man, as if he owned the world.

Charlie nodded. He grabbed a white, ceramic mug from shelving under a simple drip coffee maker and filled it. The whole time he did so, he studied the youth.

Perhaps noticing his scrutiny, the boy frowned and hunched his shoulders, turning in on himself.  

“Cream?” said Charlie.

The boy glanced at him. “Sure.” Then, he remembered to say, “Thanks.”

Charlie was generous with the cream. “Kind of late for you to be out and about all alone.”

Guilt flashed across the boy’s beautiful features. “Got off the bus about twenty minutes ago.” His voice had dropped into a full bass rumble, probably because he was tired.

Charlie chuckled. He liked the brassy attitude of this one. “Where’re you from?” he said.

“Stockton. Stockton, California,” said the young man.

Never been,” said Charlie.

“You wouldn’t like it,” said the boy.

“What brings you to Detroit?”

It was just small talk, no need to rush this. If Charlie was reading this right, the boy had nowhere to go, or nowhere he wanted to go. A boy like this could easily end up on the street and be picked up by someone else. Charlie had never lost a gold mine sitting at his counter, and he wouldn’t tonight.

The boy took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders.

Carefully keeping his voice warm and considerate, Charlie pressed. “You didn’t answer my question. Detroit’s not a place people come to for pleasure. You must have some business here?”

“Just like everybody else,” said the young man. He sipped the coffee, gazing toward the pictures behind the bar. A dip of sadness settled on his mouth for a second.

Charlie said, “Can I help you find someone?”

“No,” said the young man, a little too harshly. He squirmed in his seat. A lie then, there was someone here.

“So you do have a place to go tonight,” said Charlie.

“Not yet,” said the boy, shifting his defiant gaze toward him.

Not willing to give up, Charlie said, “It’s past midnight. It’ll be hard to find a place around here, and folks aren’t going to lease to a minor anyway.”

If looks could kill, the boy’s expression would have dropped him to the ground. Wow. Keeping this one engaged was imperative. Fresh meat like this would attract all kinds of predators.

The young man folded his arms on the counter and leaned into them. He turned to Charlie and said, “Why would you assume I am a minor?” 

Charlie sighed. How many times had he seen this now? He glanced at the pictures on the wall across from them, his stable of young, lost children that grew up under his tutelage, learned the ways of the street, and lived to tell about it. “Seen a lot of runaways come through here. I guess you look the part.”

“There’s a part?” said the boy. His voice raised three notches as he lifted the cooling cup of coffee to warm his hands.

Cold and scared, that’s what Charlie saw. He chuckled and said, “Name’s Charles. Most people call me Charlie. Charlie Marchesi. I have a room in the back. Forty dollars a night.”

“How much for the coffee?” said the boy.

So, he had no money either. Charlie admired the bravado. What did it take to leap into the world with nothing, hoping that it would take care of you? It took a keen mind and a quick wit. Most of these kids didn’t have it. They were scared and lonely, and he took them in and made something out of all that. This kid, though, was different. Charlie pushed a little more. “Coffee is on the house with the let of the room.”

The boy looked him right in the eye. “I don’t have the cash for the room. How much do I owe for this?” He lifted the cup and took another sip.

Tough guy, thought Charlie. He said, “Two-twenty five with a free refill.”

The boy pulled a ten and handed it to Marchesi.

Charlie hesitated. Was he going to let this one walk?

The boy insisted, slapping the ten onto the counter and pushing it toward him.

“Tell you what,” said Charlie. “Put down what you have for the room and you can work for the rest in the morning. It’s a rush here, and I can use someone to bus tables and wash dishes. Beats an alleyway somewhere. Especially this time of year.” He glanced outside.

The kid turned and stared out the window.

Why was he hesitating? Just take it. It’s cold outside, and I am offering a room.

The boy continued to stare.

It was about four miles to Downtown. If the kid walked briskly, he could probably make it in an hour, but there was no guarantee he’d find a warm place to sleep, and he’d run the risk of getting snatched by one of his competitors. Charlie could not have that. He said, “I am offering a room, and a way to pay for it.”

The boy looked down. “I’ll think about it.”

Charlie Marchesi tapped his pointer finger on the counter, twice. “Working the morning kitchen will get you breakfast on the house. For tomorrow, anyway.”

“Okay. Maybe I’ll take it.”

There was no maybe about it. Charlie had found his replacement. He slapped the counter and said, “Smart man.”

He grabbed the coffee and cream. A little refill should cinch the deal. The boy smiled as Charlie poured warm coffee into his mug. Yep, he’d found his replacement.

Chapter 1- It Never Ends

Lordy, she hated night calls. It damn near killed her to lose moments with Larry on a night when he was home. Her kids had gone to sleep easily, and they had a stretch to themselves after a long three weeks. The tingle in her limbs slowly and regrettably subsided as she sat behind the wheel of her road-stained Toyota Corolla, peering through the breath-fogged window at the group of four young officers, three men and one woman, who she sent to secure the crime scene at the river’s edge.

They had finished cordoning off the area and now huddled together, a miserable lump of humanity trying to stay warm in the cold of the night. At their feet lay cold death, hidden under a shroud with which they thankfully covered it. As her own warm breath created blossoms on her side window that unfolded then quickly faded with each inhale, they blew into their hands to warm them as they waited for her to set foot on scene.

Maureen Thompson had worked her way through the ranks to become Chief Inspector of Detroit’s 12th Precinct. She wasn’t normally on call at night, but the rest of her senior staff was reeling after the apprehension of a killer dubbed ‘The Vampire.’ Her own partner lay in the hospital, on her way to recovery. Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler sat by the bedside of his partner, Tomio Dubanowski, while he fought for his life. The entire company was mourning the death of one of their own. The killer was now behind bars for the rest of his life, but life out here droned on, and another victim, another criminal’s ruin, lay at the river’s edge. Sweet Jesus, it never ended.

She braced for the blast of cold that would hit her as she opened the door. It did not disappoint. The icy ground crunched beneath her feet as she descended the incline toward the river. Without a doubt, the water’s edge was the worst place to find a body. Thankfully, the blast of frigid air that hit her didn’t reek of dead fish this time of year. Her officers came to attention as she approached.

The body was on top of the rocky shore right at the edge of the water line. Feet poked out from under the shroud, and the river’s waves gently caressed them. It was a weird juxtaposition. The body was face down, unless she was looking at horrendously mangled legs. Markers had been placed next to shoe prints that didn’t belong to her officers, and her people had set down mats of cardboard next to the body as best they could on top of the rocks.

“The scene looks well secured,” she said. It never hurt to pat their backs.

“Yes, sir,” said one of the young men. Another stepped up behind him and laid a comforting hand upon his shoulder. No doubt, the first had upchucked after seeing a murder victim for the first time. What were they looking at here?

Her phone buzzed. “Chief Thompson.”

“Dispatch. Coroner ETA, about two minutes. Over.”

“Thank you. Out.” She stuck the phone back into her coat pocket. Then she squatted next to the body and gently lifted the shroud. The black hair, though short, was long enough to mat against the skull on the back of the head. She used a penlight to check for blood. It appeared to be mud and leaf matter.

“Was this body face-down when you found it?”

“Yes, sir,” said the young woman, who stared at the river when a fish splashed heavily back into it after jumping.

The skeletal build of the body, the short hair and heavy muscling indicated male, but until the coroner flipped him, she wouldn’t know for sure.

The coroner’s van pulled in behind Maureen’s Corolla. A short, older, and gray-haired woman slid out of the bus feet first, wearing muck boots under a business skirt, covered by her white lab coat. Maureen did not recognize her. However, the 12th had an on-call agreement with Precinct Nine. She was probably one of theirs.

The woman stumbled twice as she slid down the hill and fell on her bum. Maureen felt uneasy having to work with someone unfamiliar on a new scene, and watching the woman scramble to her feet did nothing to alleviate that. However, when the woman extended her hand, Maureen warmed to her gentle smile and compassionate eyes.

“Doctor Tamilin,” she said as they shook hands.

“Thanks for coming,” said Maureen. “I just got here myself. Nothing has been moved, the scene is secure.”

At first, the petite doctor seemed feeble and uncoordinated, but then she squatted with the ease of a twenty-something on the precarious rocks next to the body. Immediately all business, she began by temping the body, palpating an apparent knife wound to the back and surveying the brutal bruising on the ribs and over the exposed hips. “Do these look like kick marks to you?” she said.

Maureen squatted next to Dr. Tamilin. “Could be.”

One of the young officers chimed in, “Mixed martial arts.”

“Do you want to elaborate on that?” said Maureen, feeling her left eyebrow arch as she stared up at him.

“Yes, Sir. See that bruise on the forearm and the one behind the knee? Classic strike marks. The victim used a cross-body strike with the arm to push back his opponent, and he took a hit to the back of the knee when his opponent tried to knock him to the mat.”

“Do you fight?”

“Sometimes, Sir. When I can.”

She compartmentalized the information in case she needed it later.

“Am I allowed to direct your team?” Dr. Tamilin quietly asked Maureen.

“Of course.”

Dr. Tamilin seemed taller than she was when she stood and turned to the officers. “Let’s move this person away from the water’s edge. I’d like to roll him over on that tarp.” She pointed to the staging area that her second had set up behind them.

Two officers and her tech lifted the body. They laid it on the canvas and gently rolled it as they set it down. A young boy. He was lean, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, maybe nineteen.

The rocks under the body were clean, except for disturbed river debris. It was obvious he’d been killed elsewhere and dumped. Maureen said, “Was he in the river?”

“No, Sir. That is how we found him.”

Tamilin said, “There is no gross evidence he was ever in the water. I will check his lungs, of course.”

Maureen nodded.

The coroner continued, “From the looks of the wounds, here and here…,” she pointed to marks on the boy’s ankles and forearms, “it looks like he put up a hell of a fight.” Then she lifted each of his arms, one at a time, and examined his wrists. “He was bound, not long enough to form abrasions, but these indentations indicate he was bound.” She checked his ankles. “Yep. Probably rope, but I can’t be sure until I get him under the light.”

“Oh, god. Poor thing,” whispered Maureen. Her keen eyes perused the story on the boy’s face, arms, legs, and bare torso. Angry bruises stained his hands across the knuckles and at the base of his palms. His knees sported fresh bruises, as did his ankles and arches. He had a bent nose and a blackened eye, swollen lips. She wondered if he was missing teeth. There were contact bruises across his ribs. “Looks like he’s been in a martial arts fight to me,” she agreed as she stood.

Why would someone knife him? Was it to put him out of his misery, or had he pissed off someone? If captured and bound, was he held captive before or after the fight? His face was so smashed it was hard to ascertain his nationality, but young Taiwanese boys were smuggled into the country to fight. The color and texture of his hair suggested a tie to that traffic line. Her stomach became queasy as she thought about it.

An officer said, “We broke up a few bouts this week. Two of them licensed, one not.”

“Well, we can count on this bout being unlicensed,” she said in a low voice.


“Nothing, nothing.” She nodded at the officer and felt her phone buzz again. She walked away to answer. “Chief Thompson.”

“This is Dispatch. We just received a 9948. Family has requested an officer on scene. Over.”

Maureen looked around. They weren’t finished here, and she wasn’t going to desert her people. “Ten four. Send me the information. Over.”

“Will do. Out.” Dispatch hung up. Ten seconds later, she was staring at the call log and an address with a name. Jack’s neighborhood. She wondered if he was home. She dialed.

It rang twice before he answered in an exhausted voice. “Hey Maureen.”

“Did I wake you?”

“No. Just got in.”

Alarmed by his reply, she said, “How is Tom?”

“He’s in the ICU. Had another surgery. They couldn’t control his pain, so they did an ultrasound and found a pocket of blood. Evidently, there was a slow bleeder they didn’t catch the first time.”

“Dammit, Jack. I am so sorry to hear that. I can call someone else.”

“No. I need the distraction. How can I help?”

“Seriously, I can call someone else.”

“Seriously, I am fine. What can I do?”

“I’m at a crime scene on the river, an apparent martial arts fight gone bad. I have rookies working tonight and I don’t want to send them on a missing persons call. It’s in your neighborhood.”

“I gotcha.”

“I’m sending the address. Thank you so much, Jack. I will be praying for Tom. Out.” Maureen clicked off and re-texted the message from dispatch. She owed Jack big time. He and Tom were instrumental in catching the Vampire Killer. What was one more favor?

As she turned back to her team, a news van skidded into a crooked position behind the Coroner’s van. She did not want the press to get hold of this just yet. The illegal fighting clubs were hard enough to break up, their locations found only by chance. Giving them a head start with limited information about this victim was not on her to-do list. With a heavy heart, she trudged up the bank to intercept the cameras and reporters.

It was going to be a long night.