Authors: JC Coulton
I wake up feeling better. Rested. Working split shifts has my body clock all out of whack. But it’s deeper than that. There’s been a change on the inside. It’s in the way I feel about Carrie now, and how I’ve finally gotten over Neon. It suddenly makes total sense to head over to New Jersey tonight. I don’t know why I hesitated before. It was because it didn’t feel right to ask for Neon’s help. She will expect something back from me, but now that I feel confident saying no, it’s a good decision. I’ll head over once traffic dies down.
I understand Neon. I know the way she works. If she knows anything at all about where April is, she won’t be willing to give it up without some benefit to herself. There will be a price to pay. There always is. It’s just not going to be me anymore.
Luckily, I happen to know what she needs. Protection from the power players in her territory. There are still ‘businessmen’ out there who resent the presence of a female leader on the streets. I’m positive she gets territorial threats. That’s what I can offer her—a warning to the others pimp bosses to leave her alone. At least it will save her some money on doctors and security bills. Regardless of how loyal her team is, it will cost her a pretty penny every time the girls take beating—or if the crew has to retaliate. As long as I go in ready to bargain, I’ll be okay.
I put thoughts of work aside. It’s nearly time to pick up George from his back to back afternoon of a baseball practice followed by a music lesson. He can’t play while his arm is broken, but he does their pre-game drills and can still learn from the sidelines. Seeing him will be the best part of the day by far. There’s something so amazing about that kid. I want to hear if Mrs Baldwin’s theory is true. If it is, he should feel comfortable admitting it. I want him to know he should never be ashamed of wanting to protect other. Liking a girl shouldn’t be something he hides either, but I’ll leave that alone for now.
I leave early and drive to his school before his baseball practice is done. It’s hard enough to get a place to park close to the school, and I want to have time to take him for an ice cream before music practice. It’ll help us speak man to man. We both love mint chocolate chip, so we can bond and he can hopefully get some things off his chest. It also helps that Brenda doesn’t take him out for treats enough.
I wait at the school gates. The eyes of a few moms stray over my way. I give my usual friendly nod return. It’s always been like this. At first, they thought Brenda and I were a couple. After, a few of them moved in for the kill with dinner invites and play date requests. I’ve never led any of them on. I’ve never agreed to going on dates. Seeing my nephew used as an excuse to enjoy a little time with the ‘bad boy’ cop annoys me. It seems none of the women who invited me out actually wanted to get to know me. They were probably bored moms making moves for the sake of saying they’ve dated a cop.
The reality is that police officers aren’t a great catch. We work long hours and take lots of risk. Cops’ spouses don’t have it easy. They worry all the time about the fact that their spouses are in a dangerous job. Rookies learn early on that they’re only one mistake away from losing a fellow officer. It can be as simple as a car chase gone wrong or as malicious as a purposeful slaughter on the streets of New York.
I remind myself the school gate is not the place to be thinking about risky jobs and death. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the human race disappoints me sometimes. Soccer mom’s included. When kids start to race out of the gate, I keep my eyes peeled for George. He’s immediately distinguishable, walking with a group of other boys. Laughing and talking. He looks comfortable. He looks easy. I can see when he breaks off from the group that he expects to meet me around the block at our usual pick up spot. So I whistle.
It’s a good way to catch his attention without embarrassing him, and I’m sure he appreciates having his dignity protected. No kid wants to be picked up at the school gates. No matter how badass the Uncle in question might think he is.
When George finally makes it close enough I gesture towards the car. He throws his bag in the back and we leave without hassle. Traffic is flowing well despite the number of minivans and SUVs parked around the block. Most of these giant off-road trucks and vans are sparkling new. They’ve never seen a dirt road let alone been driven on one. It feels like such a waste in this city, but who am I to judge.
George goes on and on about his day. He’s enjoying school. He talks about the blast he had in soccer, even though he couldn’t play. Seeing him challenged intellectually and physically is seeing him happy. It’s a pretty simple equation for the kid and it probably applies to me too. If we stay creative, get active and get connected, it’s easy to feel like we have a place in the world.
We pull into the parking lot of his favorite ice-cream store without warning and he lets out a whoop, knowing what’s coming up.
“Oh yeah, Blake. You’re the man!”
His attempt at talking like a teen makes me laugh. We find our way in and grab the best available booth. Brenda doesn’t like him having too much sugar. Surely the kid needs to splurge sometimes, and it’s nice that we have something to share without her—something special, just for the boys.
He sits while I place the order. When I return, I listen to him talk about the new skate ramp being built in the neighborhood. There are some things that make me wish I was a kid again. Skateboarding is one of them.
“I doubt my knees will handle the impact, bud,” I tell him when he asks me to try it with him.
“Nah” he says. “We can both get some of those vertical boarding knee pads. It’ll be fine,” and the look on his face is mischievous. Right now, I love him for being so adventurous.
“Maybe you should wait to get that cast off your arm first?” My tone is playful yet it’s the perfect segue way into the discussion I want to start with him.
“Yeah,” he answers. “Probably.”
“Hey George, I was talking with Mrs Baldwin today.”
He looks up, a little surprised. “Really? Why were you talking to her?”
I’m sure he’s thinking he’s in trouble, but I reassure him. “It’s no big deal. I just wanted to ask her about your arm. How you were doing, now that you can’t participate as much in sports.”
“What did she say?”
He looks really vulnerable so I decide to jump straight in rather than prolonging the torture.
“She told me about Melinda Munroe and the jungle gym.”
I give him some space to fill in the gaps and he doesn’t disappoint me.
“Yeah that… I meant to tell you about what happened.” I nod and take a bite of my ice cream.
“So what was it that happened, then?” I ask.
“Melinda’s really small. People are mean to her. It’s not fair.”
Those three sentences bring me some more relief. It’s so powerful, I grin. They mean Mrs Baldwin was right; my nephew is not being bullied after all. He’s just turning out well; becoming a kid with empathy.
“Right, so you wanted to protect her?”
“Well yeah, someone had to. And then this other kid knocked me off by mistake. I’m sure he didn’t mean to. It was an accident, but he told everyone I like Melinda, then she cried and I felt really bad.”
“So, how come you were embarrassed to tell your mom and me?” I ask him.
“None of the kids believed me when I said she wasn’t my girlfriend. I just didn’t think you guys would either.”
He’s mumbling now and I can see how red the tips of his ears are. The kid is pretty embarrassed. I feel for him. It’s such a sensitive age. Being accused of having a girlfriend would have been mortifying for anyone at that age.
We focus on finishing our ice cream cones in silence. There’s nothing more to say on the matter. It’s time to drop him off at music class, so we head out to the car and I drive us out over. George listens to his iPod on the way. I look back at him in the mirror with fondness. Something that was taking up so much space in my mind ended up being nothing at all. A good thing, in fact. It’s a lesson I need to be aware of. George is turning out well. I’m not such a bad father figure after all.
Maybe there is room in my life for children. With the right person anyway. I wonder if Carrie wants kids. I hope so. I know it’s too early to bring it up, but she’d be an excellent mom. She’s got that firm way about her, yet she’s very loving too. Oh God, I sound crazy. I know this. The last thing Carrie wants to hear about right now is my desire to have kids. I have to admit it; when I fall, I fall hard. It’s scary. I need to back it off.
We stop at the apartment to drop off his bags. Brenda has made it home from work a little early. It’s good to see her. She looks really happy. She must have been talking to Mrs Baldwin more too. I smile and give her an impromptu hug. She updates me, and tells me everything has been going well for them in the last couple of days. I can’t help but feel hopeful for all of us.
Brenda makes him a healthy snack. George and I meet eyes and instantly decide not to admit to the mint chocolate chip. It’s lovely to have an innocent secret. A harmless one and I’m sure Brenda has no idea. She wouldn’t be mad anyway. Ice cream after school would be the least of her worries.
George has his rye crackers and celery sticks. While he’s eating, Brenda asks me if I can babysit this weekend.
“I want to head out with some girlfriends, cut loose a little, and have some fun.”
“No problem, little sis,” I tell her. “You deserve a night off. And you know I don’t mind watching him at all.”
“Thanks Blake. It’ll be good to catch up with people. I feel like it’s been years since I dressed up and went out. Is this Saturday okay?”
“Sure thing. George and I will get takeout and be boys.” It’s almost time for George’s lesson so I wrap it up. “We better get going, buddy. Are you ready?”
He nods at me and shoves a final cracker into his mouth before we head out the door. I drop him off at the music teachers’ house and wait for him to open the front door.
“Be polite. And say hi to Sam for me,” I call from the car. George nods and I wave as Sam welcomes him inside. Why is it that guitar teachers always seem to have long hair? It must be a throwback from the grunge era. This guy should groom himself more, given he teaches kids. There’s something a little disturbing about the topknot and the greasy locks, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m ready to start work so instead of heading back home I decide to hit the station, grab my gun and then go straight to see if I can find Neon. After a day of ruminating, it still feels like a good idea. Not that I’ll be telling Jacob. She wouldn’t be happy to know that I’m still poking around in a case I’m not supposed to be working on anymore.
Thoughts of Carrie come back to mind. I wonder again what she’s up to. If she were here now, I’d let her know my plan. I’d like to call but if I did, she’d probably need to tell Cooper. The FBI keeps a close watch on their witnesses. I wouldn’t be surprised if her phone is already tapped. Now is definitely not the time to interfere. I think if Neon wanted to, she could help me find April. But the second she see’s the FBI is involved, it’ll be over. All I can do is try not to scare her and get as much info as possible with what I can offer.
Heading back over the bridge to New Jersey, I feel a sense of déjà vu. It’s not because I’ve done this drive a million times either. Something else is falling into place. The lights are bright on the water and I’m ready to wheel and deal.
The New Jersey streets are busy with people and cars. I find a parking spot a few blocks from the Blue Star Office Complex. It’s likely to be a long night. I don’t want to draw attention to myself while I’m out of my jurisdiction. I could use another coffee, but the first thing on the agenda is working out where Neon is. Although I may have to smoke her out, I’m hoping for a simple and easy meeting. It’s better if she doesn’t know I’m looking for her. If I give her any leverage or advance warning, she’ll take full advantage.
I’m making my way around the front of the building when I notice a woman that looks like Carrie going for a run. It’s definitely her.
“Carrie!” I call out.
She’s wearing a hat, but the way she moves is unmistakable. She stops and looks around at me. I move closer, wanting to step close enough to hold her. Something in her eyes stops me though. There’s distrust. She’s holding back and she looks upset that I’ve approached her.
“Blake, what are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here? Carrie, I’m working. How did you get here?”
“Blake, I don’t think now’s the time. I’m just going for a run.”
“Sure, you are.” I know my tone is sarcastic and I don’t care. There’s something happening here that I don’t trust.
“Blake, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m going for a run to clear my mind. I’m not going to try and justify myself to you. You’re off the case now, remember?”
There is definitely something wrong. She’s angry with me. I want to ask why but it’s more important to me that she’s taken some place safe. Who cares if she’s upset, as long as she’s not in danger?
“I know what you’re doing, Carrie. Don’t do it. Please, I can tell you don’t trust me, I need you to think about this.”
“I had to look for myself, Blake. None of you care about April.”
I wonder what the hell is going on. One minute she’s debriefing with the FBI. The next she’s not even in protection and jogging the streets of New Jersey asking for trouble. She’s about to run off so I reach out and stop her.
“Carrie, wait.” I take her arm and stop her. “You’re putting yourself in danger around here. And probably April, too.”
“What would you know about that, Blake? I’m in danger everywhere I go, on account of your girlfriend Neon.”
This is the last thing I expected to hear. Especially today, the day I’ve finally gotten over Neon’s control.
“She’s not my girlfriend, Carrie.”
“Whatever, Blake. That woman has been phoning me all day, threatening to kill April if I don’t leave you alone.”
“What are you talking about? She called you?”
“Yes. Like twenty times now. I should have just told the FBI, except I’m a fool, Blake. I didn’t want you to get in trouble. And now I’m all the way in New Jersey looking for April myself.”
She looks like she might cry as she says it. I touch her arm and make to pull her into my arms. She pulls away. I have no idea what I should say. This is not going well. She shakes off my hand and runs away. What the fuck just happened? Should I chase her to try and find out more? I sigh heavily. There’s something crazy happening, and I’ve clearly been left out of the loop. She has either ditched her federal security detail or they’ve sent her out on surveillance.
If Neon has been calling Carrie, then my refusing her the other night in the car must have affected her more than I thought. And worse, if Neon’s been calling her, then Carrie is in trouble. Once Neon gets her mind set on something, it’s impossible to change it. It’s one of the reasons our relationship didn’t work. She kept inventing stories about situations that just weren’t true. It wasn’t just the fantasy stuff either. She would convince herself I was sleeping with another woman or someone owed her money.
Jesus, if Carrie is in danger, I should call Jason. Fuck! I need coffee. That’s step one. Before anything else, I just need to take a second and think. I make my way towards a coffee shop that I know has good espresso. The lieutenant doesn’t know I’m still on this case, but I’ve got freedom in my role. She doesn’t have to know as long as I log enough hours on my other cases. It’s worth the extra time. Carrie and April are worth it.
The coffee shop is still nearly full. There’s a spare bar stool at the counter, so I sit there and watch the barista make my coffee. It helps me think about next steps. I take out my phone—might as well catch up on emails while I wait. There’s a message from Ryan. We’ve got another trip coming up soon. I’ve been looking forward to it. It’s a boy’s weekend of fishing upstate and a chance to get away from the day to day. It’ll be bliss. I can see it now, days of just doing nothing, catching fish and then cooking them. It’ll probably be the best thing I do for myself all year.
I play the message. Ryan’s been rock climbing. Lucky guy. Being a tech doesn’t sound so bad at all. He pretty much gets to do what he enjoys. The pay is great, the holidays are frequent. But it’s not all roses. More than any other members of the department, they’re exposed to trauma. Analyzing crime scenes means constantly making yourself simultaneously focus on and detach from disturbing sights. They see the worst of the gore. Their job is to enter the mind of the criminals, and sometimes victims, to help us analyze what happened so we can take action.
I’m bummed when his message turns into an apology. He tells me he’s had a wrist injury and can’t come fishing. His physiotherapist has ordered rest. I’m disappointed, but I don’t blame him. Fishing would make it worse. Maybe this is a sign that I should be taking George on that trip instead. It’s far enough down the road that he’ll have his cast off. Ryan and I can plan another trip.
We’ve had some great holidays together. I know he’s got my back. He’s a real adventurer. From water to mountains I can’t think of any other buddies I’d rather hang with. I reply and tell him it’s fine, and he must be at his desk. He replies almost immediately, reminding me jokingly that we can do a repeat of camping in the San Juan hills in Colorado. I laugh because he knows that trip was a scare and a half. I’m normally pretty bear aware, but a grizzly had started the practice of visiting our campsite nightly. One night, it had tried to get into my tent. Somehow, Ryan woke up and caught him at it.
The bears out there don’t make a practice of attacking, but I’d forgotten to seal the food I had in my backpack. The bear was just hungry. It scared the shit out of me, waking up to hear Ryan shouting to get its attention and scare it away. I’m glad he was there with a cool head. Even the fiercest cops I know would lose their shit in the same situation.
Instead of replying to his email, I call him back, just as my coffee arrives.
“Bud! Saw your bad news. Sorry to hear about your wrist… what the hell happened?”
“Blake man, it was so random. I was test firing a mother of a rifle into our bullet recovery tank, and when I turned off one of those antiquated valves, something just popped. It was weird. The physiologist says it’s just a ligament strain. I gotta be careful, though. Wouldn’t want it to give myself any permanent damage. Wrists are too important.”
“Yeah man, I get it. No problems. I’m thinking I can take George. It’s about time he learned to fly fish.”
“Good idea. It’ll be awesome. I did something like that with my dad back in the day.”
“Yeah bud. We stayed out for days, didn’t catch anything until the last day. It was a bit of torture, but he eventually taught me to catch, gut and clean a fish. He even taught me the knots. It was a good first trip. I’ll never forget it. Two men trying to conquer nature for a solid week and the fish just weren’t biting. When I finally got a line out… I tell ya, I nearly wet my pants!”
This guy cracks me up. His childhood was idyllic. Parents who cared about him. Took him fishing. Loved him. I want the same thing for George. He deserves a father figure even though his is not in the picture.
“We should plan a trip for you, me and George, man,” I tell him.
“I need you to be my wingman out there, so take as much time as you need to recover; none of this saying you’re okay bullshit.”
“It’s a deal,” he answers. “Hey I’ve gotta go now. If you have time next week, let’s talk in person soon.”
“Why? You got an update for me on this kidnapping case?”
“No. Nothing major, but let’s find a time soon. Gotta go.”
I hang up. He’s exactly the sort of good influence we need around George. It’s good to talk to him, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Carrie is still up here in Jersey, probably getting herself in trouble.