“Hey Daddy, when can I drive?”
I looked in the rearview mirror to get a better look at my son. His light brown eyes illuminated as the sun beamed down onto his mahogany complexion. He sat in his car seat, his feet dangling halfway to the floor. It was almost time for him to sit on the regular seat like the big kids but he still had a few more months to go, and I didn’t want to rush it. If I could have it my way, he would stay the same age for as long as I could keep him there like Peter Pan.
“When you get old enough, son.”
“But Daddy, I am old enough. I can see over the steering wheel.”
“It takes more than seeing over the steering wheel to know how to drive. You’ll get there, trust me. Just enjoy the ride for now.”
He sighed and glanced out the window as I smiled to myself. He was a splitting image of me when I was his age. My mother would sit down and show pictures of me in my younger days, and if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve sworn that the boy in the picture was the same kid in the car seat behind me. Just as I was about to speak to him again, the phone buzzed in my lap. I immediately became disgruntled when I saw the name flash across the face of my screen.
My ex-wife barely gave me any breathing room whenever I had my son. My visitation rights were cut down because of my job. Being a police officer took up the majority of my time, and it was mainly the reason why she felt she needed a divorce. Her insecurities built up over time and for the longest, she just felt like there was another woman. Somebody, I was cheating on her with and she was partially right. It wasn’t a physical act that was brewing but more of an emotional one. She checked out of the marriage, and it forced me to fill the voids in other ways. In my mind, physically cheating was worse than doing so emotionally, so I chose the lesser of two evils. In retrospect, emotional adultery was worse, and once those doors opened, there was no way to close them. I read her text when I came to a stop light.
“Where are you at with my son?”
“This is my time with him. Why are you worried about it? I’ll have him home when he is supposed to be home.”
“You better not have him around no other women. I swear to God, Allen.”
“Look. This is my time with my boy, aight? You can interrogate him later on about the other bs, but right now, I am busy.”
The light turned green as I set the phone in my lap and pulled off. I looked back at A.J. as he picked up one of his toy cars and drove it across his lap. In his other hand, he made another car crash into it. “Boom!” he said as he banged the cars into each other repeatedly. Just then, the phone buzzed in my lap again. I tried to do things to get my mind off the fact that Lauren seemingly harassed me anytime I had A.J. with me. She had the ability to send me from one to one-hundred in record time at any given moment. I looked straight ahead, doing everything in my power not to look at her text but I couldn’t resist. If it was something disrespectful, I had to fire back. I couldn’t let it sit and wait until later because then; she would feel like she won whatever childish dispute was going on between us. The road was clear ahead of me, so I reached down and grabbed the phone as my son kept replaying the same accident over and over.
“Interrogate him? You should be the one interrogated for posing as a man! You’re not a man! A.J. will be ashamed once he knows who his father really is!”
She sent a cold chill down my spine. She knew what buttons to press to piss me off. My son kept playing with his cars in the back seat, yelling out “Boom!” every few seconds as I drove. I looked up to make sure the road was clear and with that, I put one thumb on the screen and began firing off my response. “Boom! Boom!” Just after I pressed send, I looked up, but it was too late. An SUV was coming at us full speed on the same side that my son was seated. My mouth dropped open, and before I could say a word, the truck smacked into the side of our car and flipped us over like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind. When we came to a stop, our car was flipped over on the hood as blood trickled down from my forehead and onto the ceiling which was now the floor.
I called out to him in a faint voice, struggling to hold onto my consciousness. I slowly turned my head back to him as he was suspended in the air and the only thing that was keeping him from hitting the bottom were the straps of his car seat. His side of the car was caved in as blood dripped from his head. The window beside him had completely shattered, and as I reached back to him, I finally lost consciousness.
“Um, sir? Are you ready to order?”
I looked up at her as she stood at my table with a pen and a pad of paper in her hand. She was young and attractive. She seemed like she was either a single parent reaching to make ends meet or a College student doing what she had to so that she could keep some money in her pocket. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail, and there were a few loose strands that fell over her forehead. She pushed them to the side as she smiled, waiting for me to order.
“Yes. Just um, give me the blackened salmon, please. Mashed potatoes and corn.”
“Alright, sir. Will that be all?”
I looked at the menu while simultaneously stealing glances of her pulchritude. I was good at hiding my eyes with the brim of my hat.
“I wouldn’t mind taking your number.”
She took my menu away from me and winked,
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that… but if I were single, I would. I would, and I wouldn’t think twice about it.”
She turned and walked away. She could have been just trying to let me down easily because she didn’t have to add to her reason but at this point in my life, I didn’t care. The rejection wasn’t something I was afraid of. There was either going to be a yes or a no and either way; I would live with it. My son, though? He wouldn’t have that chance and even though the accident happened five years ago, my mind still replayed it like it was something that just occurred. I leaned back as the patrons continued to flood into the restaurant. It was more of a bar than anything else, but there was an area where you could sit and dine and across the room, there were a wet bar and a dancefloor for those who wanted to cut a rug. The atmosphere around me was a bit cloudy, but I didn’t mind. It added to the peculiarity of my personality. Unclear. Foggy. Ambiguous. Enigmatic. I reveled when people used those words to describe me. It meant that I came off to them exactly how I wanted to.
After my son’s death, I developed tunnel vision. The psychiatrists I was referred to stated that the path I was headed down was unhealthy. “Mr. Eddison, you are powering straight towards a profound and dark depression. You cannot keep shutting people out and holding onto the bitterness that lives inside of you. It is going to make you rotten from the inside out and cut your life in half.” I sat up on the awkward couch that I was forced to lie on, “The more I let people in, the more bitter I become and by the way things are going in this world, it would be better to be dead than deal with the nuances of this life. I’m fine where I am and quite frankly, Dr. Slowerwizt-” he interrupted me,
“Whatever. You are wasting your time with me. You could be using this slot to help someone who wants your help than to be with me and continue to allow me to patronize you and your profession. I have been sending barbs at you all day, but I guess you can’t catch on to my sarcasm. Common sense is not something they teach you. You have to be born with it.”
The sessions never went well, and finally, my lieutenant let me off the hook so I could do my job. I went from a regular patrol officer to a detective in eight years on the force. I loved my job, and it was only because I could get lost in it and forget about the things that were happening in my life. My wife made the divorce final just one year after my son’s death. Soon after that, she packed up and moved across the country to California. I blamed her for his death, but it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault at all; I just couldn’t find the strength to shoulder the blame on my own. I am a man, but I have my flaws, and that was one of them. I could face anything in life except going to the grave and apologizing to my son for ending his life well before it should have. I sighed and took my hat off just as the pretty waitress brought my food to the table.
“How does everything look?”
I winked at her, not once glancing at my food,
“Things couldn’t look any better.”
She smiled and walked away as she switched back and forth. She made her case, but now, I just thought she was working for a bigger tip. Life had made my cynical even though most would say that it was one of the effects of bitterness. To hell with them all. I popped the napkin open and stretched it across my lap and no sooner, he walked in. I put my hat back on to cover my eye sight as I watched him walk to his table. A pretty boy. Tall, chocolate and deep, wavy hair that most men would kill to have. He wore a fitted shirt that showed off his physique as two women draped on each side of him. He was a player and women knew that. They knew it, but when you have looks and money, none of that matters. Most women will put up with your flaws when you have it made like that and the more money you have, the more they will put up with. It was like clockwork. He was the guy, though. He was the one that the agency had their eye on. He had a slew of women at his disposal and periodically, a few would come up missing with him being the last person they were with. None of us could get a hook into him, though. The women that were with him kept their mouths shut at all costs. It was like trying to pry open the mouth of a hungry alligator while his dinner was locked inside. Nothing was coming out.
I watched him walk over to his VIP booth that overlooked the first floor of the restaurant. His haughty gaze brushed over the patrons below him as if we were all his peasants and he was the king of the city. In his mind, he was, but that was far from the truth. This was my city and the only people that didn’t know it was the ones that hadn’t been crushed by my hands. I took a sip of wine just as he looked in my direction. Right now, he was a man that was seemingly able to side-step the grim reaper, but I had my sights on him, and he knew it. He puckered his lips at me and then smiled. Taunting.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was at his house asking him questions about the last missing woman. Just behind him, another female stood with her arms folded over her chest, pushing her breasts up on top of her arms. He turned around to see where my eyes were fixated,
“Oh, yeah, she is nice, isn’t she? For the right price,” he leaned in towards me, “You can have her for the night.”
“Your eyes make you out to be a liar.”
“Your lips make you out to be one as well.”
His smile immediately wiped away and from that point, he refused to answer anything without his lawyer present. We didn’t have concrete evidence about anything so we couldn’t go any further. Ever since then, three more girls had come up missing, and all were with the same MO. From that point on, he had become the only light in my tunnel vision.
I took a bite of salmon, and before I knew it, the same woman that stood behind him at his house stood in front of me. She licked her lips and took it upon herself to pull a chair out, “I hope you don’t mind if I join you.” She said it in a way that said she would be shocked if I said that I did mind. I was torn on the decision myself. She was easy on the eyes, full bodied and pretty. Not movie star pretty, but she was pretty.
“So, what brings you here… alone?”
“Cute. Real cute. How about you join us on the top floor. Mike asked me to extend the offer.”
I took another bite of salmon,
“Oh, come now. You can’t possibly be happy sitting here alone.”
“I’m quite content.”
Under the table, I felt her hand brush over my thigh. My eyes peered up at her slowly as she smiled,
“For me? I mean, listen, he sent me down here to extend the offer. I will look like a failure if I can’t do something as small as bringing you back with me. I mean,” she leaned forward, “WE, would appreciate it if you came with us.”
I couldn’t avoid what she was flaunting. It was a weakness of mine that I spent time after time praying to God for forgiveness about. I hadn’t visited a church in months, and that wasn’t the main reason that I gave in, but it had a lot to do with it. I took another bite as she pleaded with me earnestly and after she had batted her eyes a few times, her long eyelashes fluttering like butterfly wings, I gave in. It wasn’t because of her pleading; it was more so that I wanted another shot at Mike. He was too comfortable, and I hated that. I hated that more than anything else.
Upstairs, the suite was decked out. Champaign on every table, the lights were low, women scantily clad. If I were in my younger days, I would’ve indulged myself but I was much older now and besides that, it just wasn’t my thing anymore. I couldn’t care less about getting drunk and reckless. Mike extended has hand to me when I made it up there, “Detective Rawlons. Good to see you again.” I shook his hand firmly, my lips tight, jawbones gyrating inside my mouth. “What is this about?” He laughed, “Oh, come on, Detective. I thought we would be on good terms now. I mean, after all, you guys did come back with a search warrant and the whole nine, but you guys couldn’t find anything. Now,” he leaned towards me, “You guys did trash a few wings of my home but hey, those were materialistic things. They can be replaced and have been, but I’m willing to let bygones be bygones here. I mean, I’m even the one inviting you up here with me. I’ve buried the hatchet, and I think we can have a good relationship.” He put his arm around me, but I swiftly smacked it off. “I am not your friend, nor will I ever be. You understand that now and there won’t be any need for you to invite me up next time. You still have the stench of kidnapped bodies and missing women on you, and if it is the last thing I do, I will sniff it out.”
Mike glared at me and for a moment, I believed he was going to swing at me. I wanted him to. I was looking for a reason to put my fist to his jaw and send him crashing to the ground. He was a few inches taller than me and as he peered in my direction, nostrils flaring, he decided against it and suddenly, a smile appeared across his face. I was disappointed that he didn’t take his shot. “Well, Detective, you are going to have a long road ahead of you, following a scent that is not even there.” I squinted my eyes and looked around the room at the women that perused the VIP area. Some walked around gauntly while others were smiling as if they were just happy to be around. I made eye contact with her. She sucked on her cigarette and blew the smoke out, then quickly turned away from me. I knew who she was because I never forget a face. I turned to Mike, “Thanks for bringing me up. I’m sure we will bump heads later.” He laughed, “Alright, Detective. You can keep chasing ghosts and pass up on all these beautiful women. I’ll tell you what, though, I will not make another offer for you to leave the slums and dine with a king.” I stopped in my tracks as I walked away from him, wanting to turn back around and empty my clip into his chest. He continued, “And if I catch you on my property again, harassing me with that nonsense, you will regret it. I will make sure of it.” I took the cigar out of my pocket and relit it, leaving a cloud of smoke behind me as I left the VIP room.
My home was in shambles. I hadn’t cleaned in over a month, but I didn’t see a need to. I was barely home, and things seemed to be easier to find whenever I didn’t put them up somewhere. I grabbed a cup of room temperature water from the table and took a few swallows of it. Only God knew how long it had been there, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t a time for me to be picky about it. I pulled out my phone and flipped through the contact list until I got to his name.
“Donald. I think we got a way in. I saw Sherrie there, and she looks like she is mixed up with Mike.”
“Jesus, Allen, you’ve gotta leave that guy alone. We’ve been embarrassed twice already by trying to put that guy’s name in some place that it doesn’t belong.”
“That’s bull, Don, and you know it. We both know that Mike had somethin’ to do with-”
“Listen, Breeze, I hear you. I hear you loud and clear, but it is not about what we know, it is what we can prove. We can’t take some hair-brained case to the prosecution. She will laugh us out of the office, and I know she will tell Lieutenant Branderson. You know she will.”
“Listen, man, I’m sorry, alright? I’m sorry, and you know I usually have your back on these things. I had it when nobody else did. I’m the one that went to his house with you when we didn’t even have a warrant, but enough is enough. If he is guilty, it’ll show. We just have to wait.”
“Yeah. And in the meantime, those girls are going further and further into the sea of forgetfulness.”
There was a brief silence between us. I knew he had already made his line in the sand, and he wasn’t going to cross it, so it would be up to me to find those girls. I don’t know why it drove me to this point, but if I had to guess, it was because I know what a missing child can do to a family. I’d seen first-hand how A.J.’s death ripped whatever strands were left of my marriage apart. Not only my marriage but my reclusiveness had even driven me away from my family. Instead of pulling everyone close together, it pushed me away. As the silence lingered between us like a thick, morning fog, I hung up my phone and placed it on the crowded table. What did I have to lose, I thought to myself as I picked up the glass of water and took another swallow. The warm water slid down my throat like backwash as I looked around my apartment. Nothing was hanging on the wall except a picture of A.J., his broad smile jetted across his face, exposing the missing front tooth that had fallen out just days before he was set to take his school pictures. “It’s alright, man, the little girls will love your smile. Just tell them you got into a fight and they won’t think twice of it.” I remembered giving him that little pep talk the day before he was set to take the pictures. I walked up to it and removed it from the glass so I could fold it and shove it into my pocket. I wanted to make sure I had it with me because, for some reason, I knew I wasn’t going to be home. Not for a while.