Chapter 18: Memory
“Joel?” He opened his eyes slowly, allowing them to adjust to the bright light that now shone into his room. His mother’s concerned eyes stared down at him, his father smiled grimly from the corner.
“It’s good to see you awake, son,” his father said, walking over and placing a hand on his shoulder as his mother buried her teary face in his chest.
“Mom, I’m OK…” he protested. Why did she always have to worry so much?
“I know, that’s why I’m crying.” He rolled his eyes. His mother slowly tore herself away from him, content eventually to hold his hand.
“When we didn’t hear from you, we started to worry,” his dad began. “But we figured you were tired and forgot to call or something. Then the police called, and we tried to get down here as fast as we could, but you were in surgery, and even after that the police wouldn’t let us get in here until they’d had a chance to talk to you. What did they want to know, anyway?”
“Just what happened, that’s all,” Joel answered, staring up at the white ceiling.
“Well, we’re just glad that you’re all right,” his mom interjected.
“I am, mom, I am.” He patted her hand in reassurance.
“Well, how was the return trip? We read all your letters. Sounds like you had a great time.”
“Yeah, the trip back was pretty uneventful. It was sort of sad, really. I mean, I was excited to be coming back here, you know, but I sort of felt like I was leaving home, too. It was very strange.”
“Well, son you were there for almost 6 months. I suppose that place is a part of you now.”
Joel smiled at his father’s phrasing. It was a little melodramatic, to be sure, but he did like the sound of it, and in truth, it wasn’t that far off the mark. The culture he’d experienced there, the people, the way the people there had approached life – it was all a part of him. It was something that he’d nev er forget, something that would shape all of his decisions and thoughts from now on.
“Well, I guess if you’ve read my letters, then there’s not a whole lot left to tell…”
“Oh, nonsense! We have plenty of questions! Do you feel up to talking?”
Joel smiled. If there was one thing he felt like doing, it was talking. It was nice to revel in their interest for awhile, to explain the experiences which had changed him so much, and the pain was bearable now, so he should make the best of the opportunity.
His father pulled up a chair and sat, and Joel told them about his trip from start to finish, making embellishments here and there for dramatic effect. They were a captive audience – neither of them had nev er traveled outside the state, let alone the country – and Joel did his best to explain the paramount differences in culture and world-view that he had experienced on his trip, and what he had felt he learned.
None of the trio noticed when Ames and Cobb entered the room.
“So Sean pauses, for effect, you know, then says, ‘A date with Natalie Port man.’ That’s all he wanted!” His parents broke out in appreciative chuckles. “So after we all got done laughing…”
“Excuse me Mr. Mendocino,” Ames broke in, clearing his throat to get their attention. Joel looked up at him. What did they want?
“Hi detective. What can I do for you?”
The two detectives strode in, dragging chairs from the small table in the corner and sat down around his bed. They had been traveling around for most of the day, talking to every homeless man they could find in an effort to figure out who was responsible for Darryl’s murder.
What they had been told baffled them. The homeless men had told them all the same story – some mysterious disappearances had occurred, people would wind up beaten up, but wouldn’t say anything more about it. No one they’d spoken to knew Darryl personally, so they said, but both Ames and Cobb had gotten the feeling that some of them were holding back, especially a grizzled man down on 59 th .
They had checked some records back at the station and at local hospitals, and had found several unsolved crimes the past few mont hs, all involving homeless people. Nearly 100% of the cases they had found involved men.
None of the homeless had pressed charges, of course, and were tight-lipped about what had happened, so the cases were closed and no one took a second look. But Ames and Cobb agreed – there was a pattern there.
It was still a long shot to tie Darryl into the whole scheme. By most accounts, he had been abducted, but none of the other abductees had been killed, and it was still a distinct possibility that his death was just random. But in the end, Cobb and Ames agreed that their instincts needed to be trusted, especially this early in the investigation, and their instincts said that there was something behind all of this – something sinister, something that needed to be stopped, and behind it all, there was a case that could make their careers.
Bereft of clues, they decided to go back to the source, to the only witness to the crime, even though he hadn’t been able to tell them anything useful on their first visit. Perhaps he’d remember more now.
“Well, Mr. Mendocino, we’re hoping you can give us some more information. You see, we’ve been around talking to a lot of homeless people today, and they’ve given us some leads, but we really need a description of your assailants.
“Admittedly, this is a long shot, but we think the men who killed Darryl – that was the name of the homeless man we found with you – and shot you are possibly connected to a lot other violent crime, especially among the homeless. Obviously, if these guys have escalated to m ur der and have a history of violence, we’re probably going to see a lot more needless deaths if we don’t find them soon.”
Joel protested, “Well, I already told you what I know… I’m not sure what else you want me to try and remember. I didn’t really get a good look at them…” This wasn’t entirely true. In fact, Joel had gotten a solid look at their faces, but he hadn’t been paying attention. After all, they were pointing a gun at him. He wasn’t making mental notes about their shoe size or the number of freckles on their faces at that point.
His mother joined in the protest. “Detectives, my son just got shot! Can’t you give him a little time to recover before you come in here barraging him with questions and making…”
“Monica,” Joel’s father interrupted. “They’re just trying to find the men that did this. Joel can say no if he wants to. It’s his decision.”
Ames continued. “Well, what we’d like to do, Joel, if I may call you that, is just have you relax and concentrate on the experience as you think back on it. We’ve found that many times, if you just relax and focus on a single element of your memory, you can recall things that you forgot or didn’t even fully realize before.”
Joel nodded. He wasn’t terrible keen on trying to think back on the experience of getting shot, but if it would help the detectives find the men and possibly save someone else, then it would be worth his discomfort.
Ames motioned outside Joel’s door, where a young woman stood with a large sketch pad and an assortment of pencils in her arms.
“Joel, this is Karen, one of the artists on our staff down at the station. She’s just going to try and draw some sketches based on the descriptions that you can give us. Don’t worry about her. Just close your eyes and ell us what you can. We’ll do the rest.”
Joel laid back against the pillow and shut his eyes as Karen moved yet another chair into the cramped suite and sat down, pencil at the ready.
He thought back to the delicious taste of the bagel on his tongue, the feel of the concrete and loose gravel as it crunched under his feet, and the feeling of sudden isolation he felt upon discovering he was lost.
He was standing in the empty alien alley again, turning round and round, looking for signs of familiarity, but he found none.
“I was in this alley that I’d nev er been in before – I didn’t know where I was.”
Bang! There it was – the shot! But was it a shot, or just a firecracker, or a car misfiring?
“I heard a loud shot, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Then he was running, running, running towards the shot. Why was he running towards it? Why not away? His actions made no sense. He tried to force his body to turn, to stop, to at least slow, but he ran on.
There were voices now… what had they said?
“I heard them talking before I got there. One of them was yelling at the other for pulling the trigger and shooting the man, and he was saying he didn’t do it on purpose.”
He rounded the corner – there they were, looking down at the dumpster, where the shot man was lying, his body obscured from Joel’s view by the dumpster.
“OK, I see them now. They’re looking down at the man, but they don’t see me yet. The man with the gun is average height and build, dark brown hair, leather jacket, stubble on his face. The other man is a little shorter, say 5’ 5” or so, with blonde hair, clean shaven, and a light black windbreaker. Both of them are wearing jeans.”
Ames glanced at Karen, then at Cobb. This description was so generic it’d be impossible to get Karen to create a useful drawing from it. Yet another dead end…
They turned and spotted him. He felt a strange, uncontrollable sense of fear. The gun was pointed directly at him. The man was saying something…
“Joel,” Cobb broke in. “Can you see any distinguishing features on either of the men? Something bout the way they walk, or a scar, or something?”
“No, no, don’t shoot…” A sweat broke out on his brow and he shook his head from side to side on the pillow, eyes still clenched shut.
“ Cal m down Joel, it’s all right,” Cobb continued. “Concentrate – is there anything that stands out in your mind?”
Joel let out a gasp, then a low moan, then went limp on the bed. He was lying on the sidewalk, reeling in agony; his insides felt as though they’d been ripped apart. He looked up at the men as they t ur ned away, vaguely aware of Cobb’s voice trickling down from the heavens.
Then, a sudden point of clarity – there, on the shooter’s hand, a mark. As they turned and ran, Joel willed himself to focus on that mark. Time slowed down; he stepped frame by frame through the scene, and zoomed in on the mark, bringing it into better focus. Then, suddenly, it was gone, and he was falling endlessly again.
He awoke a few minutes later, amidst confused chatter and argument from his parents, the detectives, and Heather, who had come in after hearing the commotion.
“Give me the paper,” Joel said. No response. “Give me the paper!” he said again, finally getting the attention of the others in the room. There was a moment of stunned silence, then Karen thrust her pad and pencil at him. She held the pad for him while he awkwardly sketched the mark he had seen on the page as best he could.
He finished it, and handed the pencil back to Karen. “That mark was tattooed on the right hand of the shooter, between the thumb and forefinger. Now that is all I can remember.” He sunk back into the bed – he wanted peace, quiet, and sleep.
Cobb and Ames looked at the picture, than at each other. Now this was something they could work with.