“Man, that feels better,” Reed said, closing his eyes and lifting his face towards the sky. Sweat streamed down his face, a direct reaction of the situation he was just in more so than the chilly October weather.
The world around him was nothing short of pandemonium, a half dozen responding units from various entities in the city having arrived in force. Standing with his eyes closed he could hear them moving about, their radios spewing orders and directions, their equipment rattling as it was hoisted out and prepared for use. If he cracked open his eyes for even a moment he knew he would see the world through a red-and-blue pattern, the result of strobe lights spinning atop a large handful of vehicles.
“Striking a pose over here?” a familiar voice asked, drawing the corners of Reed’s mouth up into a smile.
Rotated his head back down to level, Reed opened his eyes. Using his thumb and forefinger, he wiped away the sweat that had ran down into them before regarding his partner, Riley Poole walking his way.
Unlike himself, she appeared no worse for the wear, the events of the previous hour nowhere visible on her features. Her Kevlar had also already been stripped away, leaving her in a pair of jeans and sweater. If not for the gun and badge strapped to her hip she would have appeared ready to see a movie or grab dinner, the same as she did every time Reed saw her.
How she managed to pull that off was anybody’s guess.
“Just thanking the heavens we made it through again,” Reed said.
“Yeah, well, lucky for you the heavens saw fit to send me down here to watch over you,” Riley said, sidling up beside him. Folding her arms over her torso, she leaned back against the side of the sedan they shared, raising one foot and bracing it against the rear door.
“Oh, is that how it went?” Reed asked, allowing some mirth to creep into his voice as he assumed a matching stance beside her.
“You remember it happening another way?” Riley asked, keeping attention aimed on the chaos surrounding them. Fifteen minutes before it had been just the two of them, now nothing more than an afterthought as they stood and watched the clean-up crews begin to work.
Twice Reed opened his mouth to respond, glancing over at her profile, the multi-colored lights flashing across her pale skin, before thinking better of it. “Nope. That’s how it went.”
“Good answer,” Riley said, unfolding her arms. She lowered her right fist to her side and tapped Reed twice on the thigh before using her foot and hips to leverage herself up off the car. “Don’t forget to call your mom and let her know you made it out alright.”
Shaking his head from side to side, Reed let her get a few steps away before countering, “My mom doesn’t even know we were involved in this mess. Better to keep it that way than have her worrying.”
At that Riley stopped, turning his chin into her shoulder. She stood there a long moment, not bothering to turn and face him, before finally saying, “Fine, call and tell her I made it out alright then.”
The Good Son left his muddied boots on the rug by the back door. Without them he could smell the sour scent of his gym socks as he padded through the house, an unavoidable inevitability given the oppressive summer humidity hanging like a wet blanket across the Midwest. It had seemed to arrive around the first of June and as yet showed no signs of slowing, The Good Son growing fast accustomed to his shirt perpetually clinging to his back.
The decision to leave the boots behind though had nothing to do with the summer heat, even less to do with any form of antiquated manners. Instead it had been a precautionary measure, meant to ensure that the hardened treads on the bottom didn’t echo through the silent house, giving away his position before he was able to accomplish what he had come to do.
Time was beginning to run short. He could not afford to lose this opportunity over something so foolhardy.
Walking heel-to-toe, The Good Son eased his way from the back door and through the kitchen. The smell of fried pork chops and collard greens was just beginning to dissipate from dinner a few hours before, the aroma tickling his nostrils, making him very aware of the meal he had skipped.
His heart rate increased as he silently beseeched his stomach not to vocalize any sort of request, his hands both seizing his torso and squeezing tight as he stepped quickly past the aging appliances and polished Formica countertops into the living room.
The floor underfoot shifted from linoleum to threadbare carpet as The Good Son stood in the doorway and surveyed his surroundings. The front curtains were drawn tight over the windows, just a hint of orange hue visible behind them, the only trace of the street lights shining bright less than twenty feet away.
Much like the kitchen before it, the living room was clean if not extremely dated. A sofa dominated the back wall, the fabric thick and heavy, appearing to be something akin to velour or velvet. In front of it was a coffee table, the varnish rubbed clean from each of the corners, a couple of water circles visible on the surface. To either side was a pair of rocking chairs made of the same wood and stain combination.
On the opposite end was a box television, the front of it extended more than two feet from the wall. Atop it sat three framed photographs of a man and wife, more than twenty years seeming to pass between each one.
Closing his eyes tight for a moment, The Good Son looked away from the photographs. He balled his hands into fists and held the pose a long moment, until his lungs began to burn and small explosions of orange and yellow appeared behind his eyelids.
Only then did he release the tension in his body, a barely audible exhalation passing over his lips.
He could not allow himself to focus on the photographs, to think of what he was doing as anything more than a means to an end. If he did he ran the risk of losing his nerve, something that nobody could afford to let happen right now.
In three quick steps The Good Son went to the couch and took up the largest throw pillow. Square in shape and colored hunter green, he could feel the ridges of the corduroy material against his fingertips, his senses heightening with each passing moment.
Sweat oozed from his pores in a way that the humidity alone would never be able to bring about, moisture streaming down his face, running along his forearms.
Ignoring the heat and the shortness of breath in his chest, The Good Son stepped down the narrow hallway extending from the living room. Again he ignored the scads of photographs hanging on the wall beside him, each arranged in uniform rows.
One by one a series of doors filed past him on either side, the initial a bathroom, the second a den. It was not the first time The Good Son had been inside the home, knowing exactly where he was headed.
Halfway down the hallway the floor moaned slightly beneath his weight, stopping him where he stood. Gripping the lumpy pillow in both hands The Good Son felt his entire body tense as he stood and waited, listening.
The only thing more important than capitalizing on this chance was that he not get caught. If things went sideways, if nothing turned out as he envisioned here tonight, it would be a setback, but it would not be catastrophic. He would go on to try again.
If apprehended though, that was the end of everything.
The thought brought a renewed jolt of purpose to The Good Son as he resumed his approach, reaching the end of the hallway. Stopping just short of the door he turned and peeked around the corner, a bit of moonlight filtering in through the windows, illuminating the scene.
The room was small, no more than ten feet square. A dresser lined one wall, a pair of doors leading to closets on another. In the corner was a rocking chair matching those in the living room, a thin nightgown tossed over an arm of it. The bulk of the space was dominated by a four-poster bed, the corners all rising to eye level on The Good Son.
Everything exactly as it had been on his previous trip.
On the center of the bed lay a single woman, her body motionless, deep in sleep. Positioned on her back, her hands folded on her stomach, she drew in deep breaths through an open mouth, the sound finding its way to The Good Son’s ears, putting his mind at ease a tiny bit.
He had made it this far. Now all he had to do was complete the task.
Again his heart rate spiked as he took a step forward, glancing down at the pillow between his palms. His fingers squeezed tight at the lumpy item, his knuckles flashing white as he inched his way up to the side of the bed.
In just four steps he closed the distance between the door and the woman lying asleep, the world completely silent as he crept forward.
Not once did the woman’s breathing pattern shift, her slumber preventing her from even knowing he was there.
Just eight minutes later, he was gone.
The orange sticker on the side of the foil wrapper said the burrito was chicken, though Reed Mattox was unable to detect even the smallest hint of meat. Instead all he could discern was a heaping dollop of Mexican rice interspersed with a few black beans, the entire thing coated in a heavy green salsa. As a whole the concoction was too salty and a little thin, toppings spilling out with each bite.
They ran out over his chin and hit the pavement beneath his feet, the colors standing outside against the dull grey of the asphalt.
The sight of them pulled Reed’s partner Billie over for a closer inspection, her ears pressed flat against the top of her skull. Lowering her entire body a few inches she drew in a few deep breaths, trying to decipher what was in front of her, before pulling back.
Her pink tongue shot out once over her nose to let Reed know she was hungry, but even she had her limits.
“Yeah, I agree,” Reed said, watching as Billie looked up at him, flicking her tongue out a second time at the sound of his voice. Retreating back a couple of inches she lowered her backside to the pavement, the long lead clipped to her collar spooling into a loose coil.
Shoving the remains of the burrito back into its wrapper, Reed wadded the entire thing into a tight ball. Using his hips for leverage he pushed himself up a few inches from the side of his unmarked sedan and reached through the open driver’s side window, taking up the plastic sack it had come in from the seat.
The burrito went back into the bag as Reed fished out the can of Mountain Dew he had purchased with it, setting both atop the hood of the car.
“Detective Mattox?” the dispatch radio on the dash bellowed, the sound piercing the quiet calm of the night. Automated and metallic, it passed through the open window, drawing Reed’s attention, pulling Billie to her feet beside him. “Reed, you there?”
Leaving the door closed, Reed again reached in and snatched the receiver from the radio, pulling the curled cord out through the window.
At his previous precinct, the rules of protocol for handling the radio were the very definition of excessive. His captain there had been perpetually worried that citizens would be listening to the police scanner, had insisted on professional decorum at all times.
Using first names was a capital offense on par with murder or kidnapping as far as he was concerned.
Since moving down to the 8th Precinct six months before, Reed had discovered that everyone tended to treat the radio more like a personal cell phone. First names were a common occurrence, especially after business hours, and more than once he had heard guys using the band to discuss the latest on the Cincinnati Reds.
Not much of a baseball man, Reed had refrained, though it hadn’t really bothered him either way.
All indications seemed to indicate that his new captain was of the same mind.
“How’s it going this evening, Sugar?” Jackie asked, her voice containing just a trace of syrup.
Shoving an elongated breath out through his nose, Reed resumed his position against the side of his car. He folded his arms across his chest and held the receiver up to his mouth, careful not let her hear his response.
“Excellent,” he said. “My partner and I were just having lunch when you called.”
“Something good I hope,” Jackie said. “You both look like you could stand to gain a couple pounds.”
The comment pulled the corner of Reed’s mouth up a tiny bit as he looked at himself, his six-foot-two frame carrying just over two hundred pounds. In front of him the top of Billie’s head rose almost to his hip, sixty-five pounds of sinewy muscle compressed into a tight package.
Neither one of them was what anybody would call heavy, but they certainly weren’t in need of any extra weight either.
“Fantastic,” Reed lied, glancing over at the remains of the gas station burrito wadded up beside him.
After almost half a year, the check-ins were becoming a little less frequent, though still occurred more often than Reed would have liked. He realized she liked to fashion herself a mother hen for the precinct, but didn’t particularly care for the way she had appointed herself his overseer.
He had a partner charged with doing that.
“And how are things over at the precinct?” Reed asked, trying to make his voice relay that he actually cared about the answer.
A moment of static passed before Jackie replied, “Well, that’s why I’m calling tonight. I just had a request come in for a detective to come give a second opinion.”
Reed’s face twisted up at the words, his jaw working itself twice before any sound came out. “A request for a second opinion?”
It sounded more like something that someone would say in an emergency room or a sports injury clinic, not the sort of thing he had ever heard before.
And after twelve years on the force, he had heard a lot.
“That’s what the man said,” Jackie answered. “I thought it odd too, but told them I would pass it on down the line.”
A long moment passed as Reed continued trying to wrap his mind around what had just been said, trying to place what they could possibly be asking for. In his experience, most everything requiring police intervention was very cut-and-dried. Either a crime had been committed or it hadn’t.
Asking for someone else to take a look was a novelty.
“You want it or should I phone the on-call team?” Jackie asked.
“Who called it in?” Reed asked, bypassing her question.
“Jacobs,” Jackie said. “He and McMichaels are on the scene now.”
“Tell them we’re on our way.”