The police department was a long walk from my apartment, and I took my time getting there. The bus would’ve been faster but I was already in for one headache today. The building loomed, looking stone and ancient, as if it had been there forever. I hurried past, thinking the museum downtown was half price today. I even made it to the end of the block before my conscience turned me around. There wasn’t a whole lot happening outside the building but inside everything was in motion. A couple scowling teens were sitting on the bench by the front door while a woman muttered horrified excuses to the officer behind the glass at reception.
The officer saw me and gestured me to the door on the left, not that I needed instructions. The woman glanced at me as I passed and I flashed a quick smile, trying to ignore the gentle throbbing of a newly born headache. That woman knew exactly what those teens had been up too, and the officer could see right through her. They played a delicate dance though, because throwing teens in jail served nobody and maybe this time they’d learn. I couldn’t help thinking the boys didn’t look repentant at all.
Once past the initial waiting area I found the detective’s desk. He looked up with a smile as I unceremoniously plopped my purse on his paperwork.
“Oh great! You’re here early!” He looked far more enthusiastic than I would have liked and I had to resist the urge to accidentally sweep his desk clean.
“I have other things to do today and I’m already nursing a headache.”
“I swear it won’t take long.” He pulled a folder out from under his desk and opened it,, “Little boy named Danny Stanton, age nine. He got picked up by child services when a neighbor reported he’d been unsupervised for over a week. Check of the apartment found blood and evidence of a struggle in his mother’s bedroom. First he told us she’d cut herself and was just in the hospital, then he said the blood was from killing a stray bat that flew in, and then he said his mom had killed the bat and then went to an animal refuge in the country to make it up to the animals. We’re hoping you can figure out some actual facts. No record of his mother checking in at any local hospital and the blood is still being tested but all signs point to human.”
“Why a bat?” I asked the first thing on my mind, but he shrugged.
“Kids have big imaginations. He’s in the empty office, third door on the left down the hall.” He pointed to the hallway behind him.
“He’s here already? But I’m early.”
“He tried to sneak out three times last night alone, figured he wouldn’t try that here.” His smile was aggravating me so I headed to the hallways instead, thankful that it was quieter. The office he’d described had no lights on inside, but I opened the door just enough to slip inside and shut it again, feeling for the light switch. The room light up with a click and for a second my headache came back full force, only to fade again as my eyes adjusted.
Danny was sitting on the brown sofa against the wall, head propped up by one hand and leaning against the armrest. He regarded me with disinterest as I crossed the room and sat down next to him. The clothes he was wearing were a little too large, probably loaned to him after he was brought in. I sat down on the far end of the couch, carefully tucking my purse between my knees. He just stared ahead sullenly and I wished I’d brought something to offer him.
“So…” I started, hoping something to say would come to me. Nothing else sprang out of my mouth as he turned and looked at me.
“Are you another cop?” He asked finally.
“No… They asked me to come talk to you though.”
“What are you then, a shrink?” He looked unimpressed.
“No, I’m…” The headache had mostly gone away but I didn’t want to lie and make it worse again, “I work at a daycare nearby.”
“So you’re a babysitter?”
“Basically.” There was that brutal honesty I loved in children so much.
“I was doing fine, I can take care of myself.”
There wasn’t even a twinge when he said that, although I could’ve told from his expression he truly believed that. “I’m not here to babysit you… they want me to get the truth about your mom since you keep changing your story.”
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
“I took care of myself before anyway, now I just don’t have to care of her too.” He was grouchy, I had to assume he hadn’t slept well lately. The fact that I felt nothing at that statement hurt a lot more than a headache would have. I sat there wishing I hadn’t kept my promise in silence for a few more minutes.
“What about the blood?”
“A giant bat flew in the window and carried her off, and she tried to fight it off and bled on the wall.”
The pain returned, but not as much as I had expected from such a blatant lie. I looked over at him. He was staring hard at the opposite wall.
“So she struggled?”
He glanced at me for just a moment and I thought I saw a hint of surprise.
“She was really drunk, but she fought back. I think she got hurt more than he did though.” His steady gaze drifted downwards to the floor. There was no more pain from this statement. We sat in silence for a moment, then I stood up, clutching my purse tightly in one hand.
“Do you need anything? Food, something to drink?” I asked. He narrowed his eyes at me.
“I want to go home.”
“That’s what we’re working on.” I tried to smile but he didn’t buy it for a moment.
“I’m kind of thirsty…” He said finally.
“I’ll tell them to get you something to drink. If you need someone to talk to, just tell them to get a hold of Nancy. I’ll get here as fast as I can.”
“I have a bunch of errands I need to run today and I don’t want that smug detective thinking he can just use me whenever.” In truth I desperately wanted to get away to gather my thoughts, but I hoped the knock at the detective would help him trust me more. He seemed to accept what I say with a shrug and went back to staring at the wall.
I went back to the detective desk, where he was on a phone call. Despite the temptation to let loose and smack him with my purse for putting me in this situation, I waited for him to finish, tapping my foot loudly.
“Did you find out anything?”
“His mother was attacked by a man, she was drunk but she fought back hence the blood. I told him to have you call me if he wants to talk.”
“That’s a start at least, how you get him to talk?”
“I didn’t. He slipped up in his bat story and said ‘he’. He wasn’t lying.”
“Well that’s certainly a start, I owe you one.” He stood up and offered his hand, “Can I at least buy you lunch to thank you?”
“Get him something to drink, he’s thirsty. Call me if he wants someone to talk to.” I turned and hurried out the front door before he could say anything else. The teens were gone from the reception area, and the officer behind the glass glanced up from her paperwork as I passed. I managed a curt smile that she returned and hurried out into the fresh air.
The breeze was a god-send as I sat down on the steps outside and took a few deep breaths. The headache faded and my stomach growled impatiently. I hadn’t had the appetite for breakfast, but now all I could think of was the diner a couple blocks away that would still make me pancakes no matter what time it was. My errands would have to wait, I decided as I stood up and started towards my destination. Today was definitely a day needing pancakes.