Authors: A.J. Carella
It looked like a pile of rags by the side of the road and she would have driven past were it not for a slight movement that caught her eye as she drew alongside. It was getting dark. It was the end of a long day and she thought maybe her eyes were playing tricks on her.
Best check it out,
Kat told herself as she stopped the car, put it in reverse and backed up.
There wasn’t much along this road, being several miles out from Brecon Point. She was only on it as the storm that had been raging most of the day had brought down a tree across the road she would normally have taken
home. Unfortunately, around here if a road was blocked and unless you were prepared to drive across fields, you usually had to travel several miles out of your way to get to where you wanted to go.
As she pulled the car alongside and stopped, the pile mov
Don’t be an idiot, Kat,
she told herself.
You’re on an empty road, after dark with no one around for miles
. Although she had a permit to carry a firearm, she rarely did these days but she did carry pepper spray, which she now got out of her purse and gripped tightly in her hand before opening the car door.
She was getting a bad feeling as she drew closer to the pile and it started to take shape. That feeling turned to shock as the reality of what she was looking at hit her like a punch to the gut. He was so filthy that at first it had been hard to see where his dirty clothes ended and his torn and bloodied skin began, but now there was no mistaking that she was looking at a severely beaten human being.
Having been a police officer for many years for the LAPD, she had seen more than her fair share of beaten and broken bodies, usually on a Friday or Saturday night outside various bars. But this was different. Much different. This victim couldn’t have been much older than twelve years old.
He was lying on his back with his eyes closed. Dropping to her knees in the dirt next to him, Kat reached out and gently touched his cheek. At the touch, the boy’s eyes flickered open and he looked straight at her. The desperation and fear she saw in them took her breath away. “You’re safe now. I’m going to get help.” The boy just closed his eyes again with a sigh.
The nearest hospital was in the next town and she knew that if she called for an ambulance, it would take forever to get there. From the condition he was in, she didn’t know how much time the boy had and if she could afford to wait that long.
Brecon point was a small town but it was much closer and there was a town doctor. Decision made, Kat stood up, went to her car and opened the back door. Returning to the boy, she gently lifted him into her arms. He was much lighter than she’d expected and she could feel through his rags that he was nothing but skin and bone. Gently carrying him to her car, she laid him on the back seat. He moaned slightly as she did, but he didn’t open his eyes again.
Getting into the driver’s seat, she grabbed her phone from her purse and quickly called the police station in town and told them what she’d found. As it was after hours the doctor’s office would be closed, but they assured her that they would make sure the doctor would be there waiting for her.
Kat stood in a corner of the room, not wanting to get in the way, as Dr. Crichton examined the child. She watched her as she carefully peeled away his dirty and torn
clothes to look for injuries. Kat couldn’t help but flinch as every wound was revealed.
When she’d arrived at the
clinic the light had been on and the doctor had been there waiting for them. Taking one look at the child cradled in Kat’s arms, she had ushered them into an examination room before immediately telling Kat to call an ambulance.
“Where did you find him?” She jumped at the sound of the voice behind her. She hadn’t heard him come in. Chief Finlay had been chief when she’d first left town twenty years ago and now, pushing sixty-five, he showed no sign of slowing down.
“Hi, Chief,” she said, acknowledging his arrival. “I found him by the side of the road on the way back from work.” She shook her head. “If he hadn’t moved, I would have driven right past him.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t.” It was Doctor Crichton who spoke, drawing their attention. “This poor kid has suffered a severe beating. He has a broken arm, a concussion and severe lacerations all over his body. I’ll need to get him to the hospital immediately to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on internally. If he’d been there all night, there’s no knowing if he would have survived.”
“I’ll go with you,” Kat said immediately. She didn’t want to leave this poor boy’s side.
“Sorry, Kat, but we’ll take it from here.” The chief put his hand on her shoulder gently. “It’s a police matter now.”
Kat opened her mouth to argue but then closed it again. She knew he was right. She wasn’t a police officer anymore. This had nothing to do with her, but the thought of leaving him all alone was killing her. But she had no choice. Though he probably couldn’t hear her, she wanted to say goodbye, to tell him it was going to be okay, so she walked over to him. Leaning down, she whispered in his ear, “it’s okay, you’re safe now.” He moved slightly then, inching his hand over to grip hers where it rested on the side of the examination table. She tried to gently pull it away, but he gripped it harder still. With tears in her eyes, she looked at the chief. “I can’t leave him.”
“If she makes him feel safer, she should stay with him. We don’t know the full extent of his injuries yet and we should avoid doing anything that’s likely to upset him,” Dr. Crichton said, addressing the chief.
Kat held her breath while he considered this and, after a brief pause, he nodded brusquely. “Okay, the doc’s right. Our main priority has to be making sure this little guy is okay. You can go with him. But Kat,” he carried on as she turned back to the boy, “he is a crime scene and I don’t have to tell you that you are now, too. And if he says anything, anything at all, you let me know. Got it?” Kat nodded. “Of course, Chief. Thank you.”
He nodded. “I’ll get an officer and CSI to meet you at the hospital as soon as we’ve secured the area where he was found.”
The flashing of blue and red lights through the clinic window told them that the ambulance had arrived. Kat watched as he was loaded onto a gurney and put in the back before climbing in next to him and taking his hand in hers.
“I’m here and I’m not going anywhere,” she told him as the doors closed and they left for the hospital.
He went over what they knew so far in his head as he made his way out to the main crime scene, which wasn’t much. When the chief had called on the radio to tell him to get out there and secure the area where the kid had been found, he’d also told him that Kat had had the foresight to leave the warning triangle from her trunk by the side of the road so they’d be able to find the exact spot again. He was driving slowly so that he didn’t miss it and sure enough, his lights hit the red plastic and it reflected back at him. Pulling over, he got out of his cruiser and shrugged on his coat.
CSI better hurry up,
he thought as he looked up at the sky. Storms had been battering the area all day and while it had been dry for the last few hours, it looked like it wouldn’t stay that way for long.
The wind ruffled his hair as he stood with his hands in his coat pockets, leaning against the hood of the car. There was nothing he could do until CSI got there and he could have waited in the car, but he’d been sitting down most of the day and needed to stretch his legs.
He was suffering from conflicting emotions. Part of him wanted to call Kat and make sure she was okay. What she’d come across wasn’t nice and would have upset even an experienced police officer but the other part, the part that he’d been listening to the for the past few months, warned him to stay away. Until she’d turned up looking for her niece all those months ago he’d thought he’d put the past behind him, but her reappearance had opened all those old wounds. While searching for her niece, though, he’d grown close to her again and all the feelings he’d once had for her had started to re-emerge.
When she’d finally told him what had made her leave, though, he’d been floored. He hadn’t known how to react, still didn’t, so he’d avoided her ever since, acknowledging her when he did see her about town but no more than that. He knew he was probably hurting her but he couldn’t help it. He needed to figure out how to deal with what she’d told him.
Lights in the distance snapped him out of his reverie and told him that the crime scene techs had arrived. Kat was tough. She didn’t need him to hold her hand and he had a job to do.
A flash of lightning lit up the sky, then was closely followed by a loud clap of thunder. As he’d feared, big fat drops of rain started to fall slowly at first, gathering momentum until they were coming down fast and heavy.
“Come on, quickly!” he urged the techs as they climbed out of their vehicle. “We need to get a canopy up now!” Helping them pull it out of the back of their truck, they worked as quickly as they could, getting it up in less than two minutes. Finn’s heart sank, though, as he looked at the ground. It was already a soggy mess and it was likely that any trace evidence that had been there had been washed away.
“Do what you can
, guys.” He sighed, climbing back into the dry interior of his cruiser. He knew that he was going to be here a while, so he rested his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He had a feeling it was going to be a long night.
The room had that typica
l hospital smell but was different in most other ways. After being thoroughly examined and the doctors having found no further injuries, he had been transferred to this single room on the children’s ward. The walls were painted a bright sunny yellow and were covered in stickers of SpongeBob and superheroes and various other figures that Kat didn’t recognize. Brightly-colored curtains hung on the windows and there was a box of stuffed toys and children’s books set in the corner. It seemed in sharp contrast to the young boy who laid on the bed. He seemed too small for it and his tiny frame looked lost in the bright white sheets. The cuts and bruises on his body were even more apparent now than when he’d first been found. Though the nurses had tried to remove as much of the blood as they could, without a proper bath much of it remained and it added to the illusion that surely he must be in the wrong place.
After settling him in to his room,
Dr. Crichton had gone to talk to the hospital doctors about his condition as he was now her patient, leaving Kat by the side of his bed holding his hand. He still hadn’t regained full consciousness but every now and then she felt a squeeze on her hand, as if he was checking she was still there, and she made sure she squeezed back to reassure him.
She’d called Jamie shortly after they’d arrived at the hospital
to let her know where she was and why. She didn’t want her to worry when she didn’t come home. She smiled to herself as she thought of Jamie. She’d come a long way since she’d disappeared a couple of years ago, attacked by her brother’s girlfriend and left for dead. She’d lost her memory as a result and it had been a year-and-a-half before she’d been found and brought home. Unfortunately, it had not been before her parents were killed in a car wreck. Her brother, Jake, was in prison and Jamie would have been all alone had Kat not decided to accept her offer of a job in the family firm to come back to Brecon Point and live with her. Kat had been unsure at first. Giving up her job with the LAPD had been a big step but she’d felt she needed to make up for not having been around when her family needed her.
But she’d been pleasantly surprised. Yes, there was no doubt she missed her job, the adrenaline rush when she was on a case and the satisfaction of putting criminals behind bars, but she was also enjoying her new job and she was loving being with her niece. She hadn’t realized just how much she’d missed being part of a family until now.
A squeeze on her hand brought her attention back to the small body lying in the bed.
Who could do such a thing?
It was difficult to judge his age, he was small and clearly undernourished. His skin was also very pale. A pale that came not from just being unwell, but the more profound pale that you get when you haven’t been outdoors for a long time. It broke her heart to see him lying there and she hoped he had a family somewhere that cared for him and were missing him.
As she looked at him
, his eyelids started to flutter before opening properly for the first time since she’d found him, revealing green eyes that were filled with sadness as they looked at her. “Hey, how are you feeling?” She kept her voice low as she stood up and leaned in to him, not wanting to scare him.
He didn’t reply
; he just looked at her, unblinking. “I bet you’d like a drink?” she asked him, not expecting an answer. She filled a plastic tumbler from a jug on the side table and held it to his lips while he lifted his head to take a sip. He never took his eyes off her and tracked her movements as she put the glass down when he finished.
“My name is Kat and I’m the one who found you.”
His shallow breathing and the way his hands gripped the bed sheets told her he was scared and she hoped that by talking to him it may help him to relax. “You’re safe now, I promise you.” She smiled at him before sitting down again, pulling her chair closer to the bed and taking his hand in hers again.
As well as the window to the outside, there was a
window in the wall separating the room from the corridor to allow the nursing staff to keep an eye on their patient. Through it, she saw that Finn had arrived and was talking to Dr. Crichton in the corridor just outside. “Honey, I need to just pop outside for a minute, okay?” she told the kid gently and tried to pull her hand away from his but he wouldn’t let go, shaking his head vehemently with tears filling his eyes. “It’s okay. I promise I’ll be right back and I’ll just be right outside the door, okay?” This time he let her remove her hand, but he kept his eyes firmly glued to her as she stood and left the room.
saw Finn tense and stand a little straighter as she walked towards where they were talking in low voices, but he didn’t turn and acknowledge her. They had barely spoken in the last six months and she had no idea what was going on in his head, but right now they both needed to put their differences aside. “Dr. Crichton, Finn, he’s just woken up,” she told them when she got close.
“It’s Sally, please” the woman replied. “I was just telling Finn about his medical status. As you know, thankfully, there were no internal injuries. However, the x
-rays did reveal multiple old bone fractures that have either healed or are partially healed.” She sighed. “This poor kid has been regularly beaten over a long period of time.” She put her hand on Finn’s arm. “I’ll go and check on him. I’ll catch up with you a bit later.” And, with a smile to Kat, she turned and walked off.
Kat watched her leave. She’d called him Finn, not
Officer Groves and the hand on the arm told of a certain familiarity. The knowledge threw her for a moment; she hadn’t been aware that he was involved with anyone. She’d heard that he’d split from his last girlfriend around the time they’d brought Jamie home and, naively perhaps, she’d assumed he was still single. She couldn’t pretend the knowledge didn’t hurt. It did, but she had no claim on him.
“I’ll need to speak to him
, then, if he’s awake.”
With a start, she realized Finn was looking at her and had just spoken.
“I said that I’ll need to speak to him
,” he said with that knowing look on his face, the one that said he knew exactly what she was thinking. “Has he said anything?”
“No, not a word.” She refocused on the matter at hand. “Be gentle with him
. He’s terrified.”
Of course I’ll be gentle. I have done this before, you know.” He frowned.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it came out.” She turned and glanced through the window at where the boy lay. “I’m just feeling a bit protective.”
He nodded. “Exactly why you need to go now before you get any more attached.” He held up his hand as she was about to speak, cutting her off. “Kat, the chief let you come with him to the hospital but he’s here now. He’s safe. It’s time for you to leave us to do our job.” More gently, he told her, “I know it’s hard, but you can’t let yourself get too attached.”
“I can’t go
, Finn. I promised him I wouldn’t leave him.”
God’s sake, Kat, you know better than that!”
He was right, she did know better than that. But this boy had wrapped himself around her heart and wasn’t about to let go and she wasn’t about to break her promise
“Look, why don’t you let me stay until you find his family at least?” she asked
. “What harm can it do?”
. “I’ll have to check with the chief, Kat. It’s not my decision and I’m not making any promises.” He turned toward the boy’s room. “Right now, though, I need to talk to him and you need to stay out here. Can you do that, do you think?”
Kat ignored his sarcasm and nodded. “Of course
. I’ll go and get a coffee.”
reply, turning and striding towards the boy’s room just as Dr. Crichton was coming out. Kat had just turned away when she heard the screeching. It sounded like a cornered animal screaming for its life and it was coming from the boy’s room. Running back as fast as she could, she flung open the door to find the boy huddled on the floor in a corner, his arms crossed over his head, screaming. Finn was standing at the other side of the room looking startled and he looked at Kat as she walked in, pleading with his eyes for her to do something.
ay. I’m here, and no one is going to hurt you,” she said in a low voice crouching down beside the boy and looking over at Finn, indicating with her head that he needed to leave the room.
Nodding, he seemed relie
ved as he turned and walked out leaving her to try and calm the boy down. As soon as Finn left, the screaming stopped and he was calming down, his breathing returning to normal. Gently helping him to his feet, she got him back into bed before sitting on the edge and holding his hand.
“That man, the one that was just in here, he’s a friend of mine,” she told him. “He’s a really good man, a policeman, who wants to help you. His name is Finn.” She had an idea that she knew why he’d reacted so strongly. “Was it a man who hurt you?” He confirmed her fears when he nodded. “Okay, well this man, Finn, would never hurt you. Do you think we could ask him to come back in?”
The boy started to cry then, shaking his head. “How about if I stay with you? Would it be okay then?” He looked her in the eyes and she hoped that he knew he could trust her. He nodded. “Okay, I’ll just go and tell him. Thank you for being so brave.”
Joining Finn outside the room where he was waiting
, she told him what had just happened. “I know it’s not ideal but he wants me there when you talk to him. He’s terrified of men, Finn, and he seems to have taken a shine to me.” She jutted out her chin. “And I won’t leave him.” She was waiting for him to make another argument but he surprised her.
His face was somber. “I called the chief while you were in there and he’s okayed it. With your background, you won’t mess it up and we need him to talk to us. Apart from anything else, the poor guy needs to have someone around him that he feels safe with and it looks like that someone is you.”