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Authors: Jonathan Sturak

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller

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BOOK: A Smudge of Gray
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Chapter 22

 

 

Brian’s SUV spun around a turn, its rear
tires crying. Jonathan jostled around inside with a smile on his face. He
watched a car yield to his dad’s raging SUV. The twirling red light on the roof
reflected off the glass windows of the downtown buildings, mesmerizing the
nine-year-old. As Jonathan watched the bodies stop and stare on the sidewalk, a
sharp right turn sent him grabbing for the handle. He clutched the plastic bag
in his hand, which held the can of shoe polish.

“Hang on to that, tiger. It’s very important,”
Brian said.

It was better than a ride at the
amusement park for Jonathan. He loved sitting next to his dad, watching him
speed through the early morning streets. Jonathan had no idea where they were headed,
but it didn’t matter; he felt protected next to his father.

“Where are we going, Dad?”

“I have to run this stuff back to the
lab. We’re on a mission.”

Just as Jonathan held the bag tighter,
he saw a row of twenty police sedans in front of a building.

“Cool. Is that where you work?”

“It sure is, when I’m not looking for
bad guys.”

“Are there bad guys in there?”

“Some, but there are more good guys,”
Brian explained.

Brian parked in front and jumped out. He
ran around and helped his son out into the cold morning air. Jonathan handed
him the bag.

“Thanks for keeping this safe,” Brian
said.

“How many guns are in there?”

“A lot of guns. But hey, I need you to
stay safe, okay? You have to be very quiet and sit where I tell you. Kids don’t
usually get to go inside a police station.”

“Okay, Dad.”

Jonathan swallowed.

Brian saw his son’s throat clench. “Hey.
Pretend this is a game, tiger. Like when we played that virtual reality
simulator at GameWorks. But I’m playing this game. You’re watching me this
time.”

“I’ll be fine, Dad.”

“Come on, stay close,” Brian said.

Then like that, Jonathan let his dad
hold his hand and take him into the building. The nine-year-old absorbed
everything as if through an amplifier. Uniformed cops shuffled. A group of
handcuffed women cackled. A janitor sloshed a mop. A cockroach scampered.

“This isn’t a fuckin’ daycare, Boise,” a
deep voice said.

Jonathan looked up and saw the chubby,
cake-eating policeman wearing a scowl.

“Hey, watch the language. My kid’s
here.”

“Exactly… I think you’ve lost it.”

“Listen. I got something here,” Brian
replied showing his colleague the bag.

“Fuckin’ shoe polish?” the officer said.

“Fuck you,” Brian mouthed, but Jonathan
still heard him.

Jonathan felt his stomach ache. He heard
the F-word before, but only by bullies at his school. Jonathan didn’t like this
fat man, even though he wore a uniform.

The officer wandered away. A slender,
shorthaired patrolwoman approached. Her eyes were squinted.

“Beth. Can I ask a favor?” Brian said.

“I’m not organizing your desk,” she
replied.

“Keep an eye on my son.”

“Uh…”

“Just for a few minutes. I need to have
the lab run this.”

“I have paperwork to do,” she said.

“Come on. You owe me for those
accounting numbers.”

She hesitated.

“Please,” Brian pleaded.

“The captain will have my badge,” she
said.

“No. He’ll have mine. He won’t be in for
hours. Come on, just a few minutes.”

“Okay. But just a few minutes.”

Jonathan watched as his dad stooped down
to his level.

“Hey, tiger. Can you go over there and
sit next to Beth? She can show you her desk plants.”

“Okay,” Jonathan replied.

“I’ll only be a little bit.”

Jonathan broke free from his dad’s side
and walked with the female officer. He noticed the smell of something foul. It
reminded him of the boys’ bathroom at school after the toilet had overflowed.

“So, your dad’s a hard worker. You
should be proud,” she said.

“I am.”

“What do you guys like to do?” she
asked.

“We play video games together.”

“That’s great. If I had a son, I’d play
video games with him.”

Jonathan sat at her desk.

“Just wait here until your dad’s done.”

Jonathan smiled. She opened up her
computer and started clicking through spreadsheet windows. As he watched her
type, his eyes moved to a brown bamboo plant on her desk. Its intertwined stems
were all dead, except for a green one still hanging on to life.

“Hey, I need a copy of that report,” the
chubby patrolman yelled.

Beth sat up and rummaged through a
folder. She pulled out several sheets. “I have to make some copies. Just stay
here, okay?” she said to Jonathan.

He nodded, and then watched her
hustle away. As he sat there, he breathed through his mouth, trying to hide
from the smell. He counted the desks on the floor and noticed the one in the
back had the most papers. He wondered where his father’s desk was. As Jonathan
studied the room, a few officers walked past. They didn’t even notice him.
Jonathan looked around and saw a man in a dress shirt talking on the phone. A
fan swirled above the man. The blades hypnotized the nine-year-old. He wondered
whether it would hurt if someone had grabbed them. On a nearby wall, he noticed
a small basketball net hanging. Jonathan stood up and shifted toward it,
calculating the net to be at eye level of his dad. He searched for the ball as
he craved trying to dunk it.

As he investigated, Jonathan saw a man
covered in tattoos sitting in a chair with his hands behind his back. The man
locked eyes with him. Jonathan wanted to look away, but he couldn’t. The man gripped
him with his eyes, the same man who had gripped Jonathan’s mother.

Shhppp!
the man formed with his voice.

Jonathan stood still.

“Over here,” the man continued.

Jonathan broke free and looked back at
the desk.

“Hey, the ball’s over here,” the man
said.

Jonathan turned to the man and saw the
spongy ball under his seat. The nine-year-old wanted the ball, but was terrified
at the sight of the man. Jonathan wondered whether he should go.

The man reached under his seat and
picked up the ball with his handcuffed hands. “Here. Take it.”

Jonathan tiptoed toward the tattooed man.
There was nobody around. It was as if the people had forgotten about the man,
just as they had forgotten about the nine-year-old boy.

The man extended the ball.

Jonathan stared at the skulls painted on
the man’s forearm. Jonathan remembered seeing them before in a video game he
had rented. Skulls were the last boss in that game, and Jonathan was not able
to beat them. He reached for the ball slowly, steadily. He was afraid that the
skulls were going to bite him.

“Take it. Go on,” the man continued.

Jonathan inched closer. His eyes were
fixated on the skull near the man’s wrist. Jonathan held his breath. But then,
the skull lunged at him and clutched him.

“Okay! Let me out of these cuffs!” the
man roared, jumping up from his seat.

Jonathan tried to break free, but he
couldn’t. Beth ran toward them as well as two other officers. Others in handcuffs
hollered. The janitor gasped.

“Let go of the boy!” Beth demanded.

“No! Take these fuckin’ cuffs off! You
guys got the wrong guy!”

“It’ll be okay,” Beth said to Jonathan.

The nine-year-old saw the guns pointed
his way. He started to cry. He tried to push and pull, but he was trapped. The
man gripped him tighter around the neck. Jonathan couldn’t breathe. His lungs
screamed.

“Let him go!” another officer yelled.

As Jonathan felt the skulls trap him, he
saw a flicker in his eye. It was something moving fast—it was his father.

Brian leaped through the air and
tackled the man. The skulls relinquished their grip. Jonathan rolled away. The
man went down. Brian pinned the man’s head to the floor with one of his knees.

“Okay! Okay! I’m sorry,” the man
pleaded.

“No one lays a hand on my kid!” Brian
yelled as he picked up the man and tossed him back on the chair. “Book this
asshole!”

Several officers grabbed the man and dragged
him away. Jonathan filled his lungs with life and let his dad help him up and
hold him.

“I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” Brian
said.

“Yeah. I’m sorry, Dad.”

“It’s okay. Let’s get out of here.”

Jonathan stared at no one as he grabbed
his father’s hand.

 

 

 

Chapter 23

 

 

The high-rise apartment building that
Brian Boise called home, sat under the sun like a plant conducting
photosynthesis. The inside of the building was like the plant’s cells
harnessing energy. The many homes flurried with kids waking for school and
parents preparing for work, and the first shift workers were riding the
elevators down. The building released people ready to flourish for the day,
people who were like fresh oxygen from the healthy plant. Suddenly, a buzz
filled the air like an angry bee that wanted inside the plant’s flowers. It was
Brian’s SUV. The truck accelerated toward the building’s loading zone, and then
screeched to a halt. A woman on the sidewalk jumped back from the unknown
insect invading her space.

Inside the SUV, Brian commanded the
machine as Jonathan sat in the passenger seat like a kid playing a video game.

“Everything’s okay now. I need you to go
in and straight home. Tell Mom to sit tight and I will fill her in soon,” Brian
instructed as he watched his son’s animated expression.

“What about school?”

“No school today, tiger. You go up and
take care of Mom. Stay put until you hear from me. Okay?”

Jonathan listened to his father and
opened the door. The nine-year-old felt like a cop, a partner to a real police
detective, since he had run around the police station with his father. Jonathan
hopped onto the sidewalk with a grin that his father had painted on him for
simply being his dad.

“Okay, Dad. I had fun.”

“Fun? You had fun?” Brian chuckled.

“Yeah. I learned something too.”

“Oh, yeah. What’s that?”

“I learned never to believe the bad
guys.”

“Ha! I wish all the guys at the station knew
that. Go now, son. I need you to protect Mom, it’s very important,” Brian
explained.

Jonathan slung his backpack over his shoulder.

“And Jonathan,” Brian continued as
Jonathan turned with open eyes. “I love you, son.”

“I love you too, Dad,” Jonathan replied
in a tone that massaged Brian’s ears.

Jonathan shut the door, and then hustled
into the apartment as if he had just selected a mission in a new video game. He
didn’t turn around as he moved, but if he had, he would have seen his father’s
loving eyes watching him arrive at safety.

The morning sun filled apartment 1009
with life. The television screen mirrored the sun’s rays and bounced them
toward the kitchen. Tranquility surrounded the home as the double-paned windows
muffled the sounds of the morning traffic. The place was inviting like the house
of one’s grandmother, except for one grave difference, the stench of cigarettes
replaced the aroma of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Anne Marie sat at the
kitchen table puffing her fourth cigarette. Her eyes were blood shot. Her hair
was a tangled mess. And her normal softness had vanished, replaced by a rough
chain smoker. She gave up smoking years ago when Jonathan had been conceived,
but her old habit quickly returned when chaos filled her night.

The lock clicked as Anne Marie killed
her cigarette and scurried inside the living room. She watched as the door
burst open and life appeared in front of her.

Jonathan dashed inside and locked the
door. Anne Marie ran to him and put her hands on his back. She wanted to ensure
her son was in fact real, and not the image running through her mind all
morning, ever since Brian’s erratic phone call.

“Baby, are you alright?” Anne Marie
asked.

“Yeah, I was just with Dad,” Jonathan
replied with a smile as if he entered level two of his game.

“Come in the kitchen in the better
light.”

Jonathan set his backpack on the couch
and followed his mother into the kitchen. He didn’t suspect any danger. His
nine-year-old mind still thought life was limitless, and no matter what had happened,
his invincible mother and father would always provide a protective hand. But as
he watched his mother sit on the chair and face him, he could see the anguish
in her eyes, and at that moment, he realized his mother, his protector, was no
longer invincible.

Anne Marie parted his brown hair and
studied his scalp like the school nurse searching for lice, but this particular
examination was not to thwart the spread of a hair-jumping insect; it was to
thwart the demons plaguing a distressed mother.

“Dad and I were on a mission,” Jonathan
explained still in a sprightly mood.

He hoped his mother would give an
exaggerated smile like she did whenever he told her what he had done. However, she
didn’t. Her mouth quivered as she looked at him with her brown eyes glazed with
a layer of tears, a look that he never had seen before.

“What happened, baby? Did he pick you up
from Kevin’s?”

“Yeah. He came by and picked me up. I think
he doesn’t like Kevin’s parents. He knocked out his mom.”

“He knocked her out?”

“Yeah. But the ambulance came, so we
left.”

“Where did you go then?” Anne Marie
continued.

“We went to the police station. He
dropped off the picture Kevin gave me and shoe polish from Kevin’s dad. Then
this guy in handcuffs with skulls on his arms grabbed me. Some cops pointed
their guns at us. And then Dad tackled him.”

“What? Oh my God. Are you alright?” Anne
Marie said as she tried to comprehend scenes that petrified her.

“Yeah, Mom. I want to be a cop.”

“Where is your father now?” Anne Marie
asked as she furled her eyebrows.

“I don’t know. He wants us to stay
here until he calls, and he doesn’t want me to go to school. Yea!”

Anne Marie replied by pulling him
closer. Jonathan felt the warmth from his mother. He positioned his head
against her soft cotton robe as silence filled the kitchen. A moment passed of nothingness,
but then Jonathan heard something—something grimly familiar, yet something that
he had never heard before. It was the sound of his mother’s beating heart,
which pounded in her chest like the evil villain looming in his video game. As
Jonathan listened, he felt his mother’s body vibrate. He heard a whimper.
Jonathan realized why his mother did not speak and why she held him tightly; she
was crying.

“Is Dad alright?” Jonathan asked as he
pulled away.

He looked into his mother’s eyes and saw
something that frightened him—his reflection contorted by her tears.

Anne Marie looked at the counter as
Jonathan followed her gaze. Her eyes rested on the open bottle of whiskey and half-empty
glass. She left everything just the way she had found it as if she were
preserving it like a crime scene.

“I sure hope so,” Anne Marie said
holding her son even tighter.

*  *  *

Several blocks away, the glass of a parked
Subaru reflected the sun rising above the awakening city. The streets were
alive. Cars flowed. Street vendors solicited. And business professionals in
their fall gear filled the sidewalks. Some strolled as they savored the
morning, while others hustled because they had eked out the minutes of sleep
before their morning start times.

A bushy fifty-something custodial worker
whistled the theme song to his favorite television show,
The Jeffersons
,
to keep his mind off the crisp morning air. He had a perfectly sculpted
mustache that kept his upper lip warm as he cleaned the windows to one of the
tallest office buildings in the downtown. He had about twenty minutes of
washing left and picked up his pace, because in twenty minutes the first wave
of business professionals would swarm the building, punching the clock at 6:30.
The chipper man worked like an assembly line worker performing the same duty
repeatedly without thought. The man used a long sponge, dabbed it into soapy
water, smothered the glass, and then used a long black squeegee to reveal a
brilliant shine. The glass was like a mirror, which prevented his view to the
inside of the building, but it gave him immediate recognition of his glimmering
work. As he continued the theme song from the beginning, the front door opened.
The worker’s gaze was at the bottom of the glass, which caused him to take in
the exiting person from the bottom up. He noticed the shining charcoal gray
dress shoes, black dress slacks perfectly creased, leather glove holding a
briefcase, and the trench coat wrapping the man walking from the building he
had been paid to maintain. Reaching the man’s face, the memory bank of the
custodial worker’s brain immediately recognized him.

“Good morning, Mister Malloy. You’re
going the wrong way,” the man joked.

Trevor offered the
sometimes-disrespected man a smile and a moment of his time as a gesture of
respect.

“I have a subway train to catch,” he
replied, and then he looked up at the blue sky. “It’s going to be a beautiful
day.”

“Yes, Mister Malloy. You have a safe
day, sir,” the custodial worker responded as he continued washing and wiping.

Trevor embraced the fresh morning air
still victim to the coldness of night. The sun warmed his face as he strolled
down the sidewalk with his hand firmly around the handle of his briefcase. As
he crossed the street, the thick morning crowd surrounded him. While the other
black suits and briefcases masked Trevor, his shoes made the deepest clink off
the concrete.

BOOK: A Smudge of Gray
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