tyler butler

November 23rd

Chapter 21: The Mark

Ames and Cobb were excited. Joel had been able to give them a description, albeit a rather poor one, but he’d also been able to give them a rough sketch of the tattoo the man had on his hand, and that was something that they could look into.

They ignored the dagger-like stares of Joel’s parents as they stood up quickly, their movements taking on an almost frenzied speed, and rushed out of the room, murmuring thanks to Joel as they went. Joel was just glad to be rid of them. The pain had returned, and he was overcome with weakness again. Sleep overcame him as Karen wordlessly maneuvered the notebook from his hands and walked briskly out of the room, trying to catch up to Ames and Cobb.

Ames had a feeling that he had seen the mark before, but he couldn’t remember where. Maybe if he looked at it again… Wait, where was the sketch?

“Damn it, Cobb, we forgot the sketch.” They both turned and nearly bowled over a panting Karen, who thrust the note book at them. Cobb and Ames smiled. “Thanks Karen. See you back at the station.”

They turned and continued out of the hospital and on to their car. Ames took the passenger seat and examined the sketch more closely as Cobb started the engine and headed out of the parking lot, turning towards the station.

“Recognize something, Ames ? ” Cobb asked, amused at his partner’s look of complete perplexity as he peered at the sketch.

Ames sighed and reluctantly moved his eyes away from the sketch. “I dunno. It looks so familiar.” He shook his head. “But I can’t put my finger on it right now.” He rubbed his eyes and leaned his head back against the headrest.

“What a day. I’ll be glad when we can get some rest. What time is it, anyway?”

Cobb glanced at the green clock in the dash. “’Bout 4:30,” he said. “No rest ‘til we get this thing straightened out though – I’ve got a feeling we’re on to something. We need to finish this out as soon as we can. This is a make-it- or-break-it case for us, you know?”

Ames gave a low snore as a response, and Cobb smiled. Might as well let him sleep for the few minutes it would take them to get to the station. It would hopefully clear his head enough to help him remember where he’d seen the tattoo before.

The station was clearing out when they arrived. It was quitting time for many of the administrative workers, and the parking lot was becoming deserted as they pulled in.

Their first stop was Foster’s office. She was on the phone when they entered.

“I understand that, Mrs. Mendocino. I will speak to them. Of course. If you have any other concerns, please just give me a call. I know… you’ll be the first to know. And if your son happens to think of anything else, please let us know. OK, you have a nice day, and I am sorry about your son… Bye bye.”

Foster exhaled slowly as she laid the handset down. “That was Joel Mendocino’s mother. She was upset because you stormed in and disturbed her son.” She looked up at them pleadingly. “Was it really necessary to barge in there like you did?”

“We ran into a complete dead end, Lieu. We figgered the kid could probably give us more information than he already had, and based on other things we were able to find out, we think this case may be bigger than just a simple mugging.”

“Really? What have you found?”

Both Cobb and Ames pulled out their notebooks, scanning the cluttered pages for reminders of the day’s conversations. “Well, we got confirmation that the dead victim is homeless. His name is Darryl; we weren’t able to get a last name. He’s in and out of St. Ives, a homeless shelter down around McAllister Park .”

Ames continued, “We went and talked to a number of homeless people in the area, especially down on 59 th , and they all told us stories of some ‘abductions,’ for lack of a better word, of homeless people these lat few weeks. Seems they all show up a day later, all beat up. Apparently it happened to Darryl, but no one we spoke to could tell us if it somehow related to his death.”

Ames paused, and Cobb interjected again. “Both of us feel like the abductions and Darryl’s death are related, but we’re not sure how yet…”

“But this,” Ames said, slamming the sketchbook down on Foster’s desk excitedly. “May be the link between everything. Joel Mendocino was able to sketch this for us. He said that the man who’d shot him had that symbol tattooed on his hand.”

Foster held the sketch up to the light, examining it more closely. She frowned. “You said there have been a lot of abductions lately?”

Ames nodded. “Is it possible that Darryl told someone a little too much about his experience and they had to have him killed?”

Cobb smiled. “That’s what we’re thinking.”

“Well, check with Organized Crime,” Foster said, handing the sketch back to Ames . “See if the sketch rings any bells with them. If these abductions are related, then there’s probably a kingpin involved somewhere along the line. OC might know something about it.”

Ames and Cobb nodded before turning and exiting the office, walking to their own desks in the main office. The station was still populated, but the usual bustle of the day had calmed down substantially since everyone had gone home.

Cobb picked up his phone and dialed the extension for the Organized Crime division as Ames headed back towards the records room. “Hi, this is Detective Cobb from Homicide. We got a victim over here, homeless man, possibly related to a rash of abductions and assaults that’s been happening recently in the McAllister Park area. One of the shooters had a mark on his hand. We’ve got a sketch, and we were wondering if you guys could take a look and see if you recognize it. Sure. OK, I’ll do it right now.”

He out down the receiver. “They want me to fax it over.” He walked over to the fax machine and fed the paper quickly through. Ames returned carrying a stack of folders and sat down, poring through them.

“These are reports from some of the other assaults that have been reported by hospitals recently. Most of them are from McAllister Park , which isn’t surprising in and of itself, but here’s something interesting. There are other reports of assault-like wounds from some middle-aged businessmen from the same day or the day following the same report from a homeless man. Coincidence?”

Cobb glanced over Ames ‘ shoulder at the cluttered data in front of them. “So what are you thinking?”

“I dunno. But it seems strange to me that a bunch of businessmen get beat up, and a bunch of homeless men get beat up, all at the same time, and nobody wants to press charges or talk about it. Hell, a lot of them made excuses like, ‘I fell down the stairs,’ or some bullshit like that.”

The phone rang, shattering their contemplation. Cobb picked up. “This is Cobb. Uh-huh. Really? So soon, huh? Great. Yeah, fax it over. You say there’s a unit over in the area right now? OK, yeah, I’ll do that. OK, thanks a lot. Bye.”

Ames looked up from his reading excitedly.

“Well, we got a match,” Cobb said, walking over to the fax machine, where a copy of a police report was spitting out. “The OC guys said there’s an warehouse over on Delome that has been investigated by some blue and whites for the past couple of weeks. A woman has been calling to complain about noise coming from it for awhile, but by the time the blue and whites get out there, there’s nothing to be seen.”

“But how does this tie into the tattoo, and what does OC have to do with it? And furthermore, what’s a woman doing living down on Delome?”

Cobb chuckled. The old industrial section of the city centered around Delome Avenue , and it was generally considered to be one of the worst places in the city to live, but some residents refused to move.

“Well, OC started looking into it because there was a major OC-related drug bust around the area, and they’re thinking the entire area is probably used by gangs and whatnot for all kinds of nefarious activities. So they had a few of their guys look into it, and he remembers seeing a symbol sort of like the tattoo on the shooter’s hand etched into a door on one of the warehouses. They sent a blue and white out there tonight to keep an eye on things, and see if they could figure out what’s going on. What do you say we join ‘em.”

“Worth a shot, I guess. Strange that a mark like that would be etched in a door, but whatever. Thank God for small miracles, I suppose. Let’s go.”

Chapter 22: Disappearance

The silence that had followed James’ story was finally broken by Holly’s expression of thanks. She stood up slowly, reaching her hand towards the grizzled storyteller.

“Thank you, James, for telling us about this.”

“Wal, I figgered somebody oughtta know. Somethin’s got to be done, I think. I mean, most folks don’t seem to care too much about us down here, but still, it just ain’t right for us to get kidnapped and beat up like we do. Anyway, I hope maybe you all can tell the right people…”

Holly smiled as she released his hand. Ned nodded in acknowledgement and thanks as he and Holly turned around, looking for Ned and Ken. They weren’t sitting behind them where they had been initially. Where had they gone?

Holly glanced around frantically and began to call Ernie’s name. Ned calmed her down. “Holly… maybe they’ve just gone to the van… let’s just go and look.” He took her hand and led her towards the van. Holly wasn’t calm. The stress of the day was finally catching up to her. She needed a stiff drink – very stiff.

And now Ernie had disappeared! Her emotional side had taken over, leaving rationality by the wayside, and Ned’s confidence was not as comforting as it ordinarily was. She continued to look around as Ned dragged her towards the van, and called Ernie’s name at increasing volume even after they had left the bounds of the bridge community.

Ned, unlike Holly, still had a sense of rationality despite the straining and confusing events of the day. Perhaps it was the fact that he was an engineer, a professional, perhaps it was that he was male, but whatever the reason, he was dealing with the situation as calmly and coolly as could be expected.

Upon their arrival at the van, he peered around, looking for signs of Ernie and Ken both in and around the vehicle, but he found none. And Ken’s bike wasn’t in the back. His initial reason for going to the van was to see if the bike was still there, but upon inspection, he remembered that Ken had insisted that he remove it when they had arrived. Holly was growing increasingly agitated, allowing the worry of her maternal instinct get the best of her.

“Holly! Cal m down! I am going to go back and see if they went to the east side of the bridge. I’ll be back in a few minutes. You wait here in case they come back. OK?”

Holly nodded reluctantly in response. Ned made sure she was comfortable in the passenger seat of the van, then turned and walked back towards the bridge. He made his rounds, following roughly the same path that the quartet had made earlier in the day, but no one had seen Ernie or Ken for quite some time. Some people reported seeing them ride off on the bike about 45 minutes ago, so Ned’s suspicion that they had left of their own accord was satisfactorily answered.

He returned to the van and continued to try and calm Holly, reassuring her that both Ernie and Ken were not stupid, that they knew this area of town well, that they had most likely ridden home on their own; they were fine.

Holly didn’t seem to believe him, but she reluctantly calmed down and agreed that they should drive home. She could call St. Ives from home and make sure Ernie was back. Ned was glad when he finally spun the wheel and maneuvered his way back onto the road. He wanted to get home and have a stiff drink himself.

When he reached Holly’s small apartment, he debated whether or not to leave her alone. She had calmed down considerably during the trip, and assured him that she’d be fine. If she felt she needed anything, she’d call him and let him know. She exited the van and waved half-heartedly as she opened the door to her apartment building and entered.

Ned felt like he needed to calm his nerves, and driving had always been a good way to do that, so he decided to take the long route home. His mind wandered back to his homeland as he drove.

One of the core reasons that he and Lavina had emigrated to America was to escape the violence that had plagued their country. Thankfully, neither Ned nor Lavina had ever experienced the violence firsthand, but they had heard terrible stories of roving “death gangs” that would travel around, raping, beating and robbing anyone who got in their path. If they didn’t physically kill you, they’d do enough psychological damage that it was essen tially the same.

Ned shook his head. America was not the land of promise that he had hoped and dreamed it would be when he had contemplated the move from his European home. America was no better than the rest of the world – it had the same vices, the same violence and depravity, the same distaste for the less fortunate. No, America was not the land he had been promised.

He approached the small house that his family called home and parked the van on the street on the next block. His six children poured out of the front door of the house, the older ones smiling in warm welcome, the youngest running up to him and attaching themselves steadfastly to his legs. It had been an entire day! How had they ever gotten along without him?

He walked, children in tow, towards their home. Lavina stood in the doorway, a strange expression of disapproval on her round face. Ned entered the house and hugged her close, ignoring the children’s burst of laughter as he swept her back and kissed her fiercely on the lips. What a wonderful family they had created – together!

But it soon became apparent that Lavina was not in the mood to revel in the marvelous nature of their family. She pushed him away and said, “Someone is on the phone for you. Young and she sounds upset.”

Ned sighed. Lavina had so many astonishing qualities, but she was jealous. She thought that every young America n girl was on a personal mission to steal her husband away, and she fought fiercely for her man, though Ned knew that battle had been won long, long ago.

He walked into the small living room, sitting down heavily on the chair that was his. The children did try, on many occasions, to claim it for themselves, but it was well acknowledged among all members of the family that when Ned was home, the chair was his, and no one else’s.

He was looking forward to a few minutes of relaxation on the chair, then it would be time to do something really fun – work on the Jetta and get it up and running again. He grinned just at the thought of getting under the hood and immersing his hands in the greasy machinery.

He picked up the receiver and held it to his ear. “Hello?”

“Ned…” It was Holly, and she was crying. “I called St. Ives, and they said he isn’t there! He hasn’t come home yet! Ned, something’s wrong, I know it. I can’t explain it, but I know something isn’t right!”

OK, what do you want to do?” Ned was tired, but he knew he couldn’t just let her sit in her apartment, by herself, and worry. No, he had an obligation, as both a friend and a man, to help her – to make sure she felt like she was helping the situation – if there even was a “situation.”

“Let’s go look for him. Maybe he’s hurt or something, you know, and if we could just…”

“Holly, he’s probably OK – the chances of something happening are just so…”

Dammit, Ned! I know he’s not OK!” she screamed into the phone, forcing Ned to move the handset away from his hear in a self-preserving reflex.

OK, OK, we’ll go looking for him. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

“Thanks Ned.”

OK. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

OK, bye.”

“Bye.”

He set the handset gently back on it’s rest, and laid his head back on the chair, closing his eyes blissfully for a few seconds. Well, rest, relaxation, and the Jetta would have to wait.

He stood up and called to Lavina. “I have to go out. Holly is worried about one of the homeless guys she knows, and I’m going to go help her look for him. I should be back in a couple of hours or so.”

Lavina met him in the hallway with yet another disapproving gaze. Out with a beautiful young woman, no doubt. Well, this one wouldn’t steal her husband away, oh no. She’d make sure of that.

Ned shook his head, knowing what she was thinking. “You needn’t worry, darling. You’re the only woman for me.” He reached for her but she pulled away. Oh well, someday she’d get over it.

OK, well I will see you and the children when I get back. Children, be good, obey your mother, and I’ll be back soon.” A chorus of acknowledgments came from various corners of the house, and he turned, threw his jack over his shoulders, and stepped out into the darkness.

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