“Something’s fucked up over here and it ain’t my fault.”
Louise recognized the voice immediately; it was Donnie Owens, better known to most as Spike. He’d been released from state custody last week and it had only been a matter of time.
She lunged forward in her chair, eyes squeezed shut, pen frozen in mid-air. “Donnie, honey, this you?”
“It’s nobody you know. Mind your own business, you nosy old bitch,” the caller growled, further convincing her that it was, in fact, Donnie. She knew that he preferred to be called Spike, but for years, as part of her ruthless campaign to simultaneously love and rehabilitate him, she’d refused to acknowledge that name. Now, in desperation, she gave it a go.
“Spike? What’s going on?”
“Dammit!” His voice was an explosion. “I said it ain’t me. There’s a dead baby over here, you gonna send someone or not?”
Dead baby? Sweet Jesus, how did these things happen? Thirty-two years working in the dispatch unit and she didn’t understand it any better now than she had on that very first day. Unintelligible muttering snaked through the line and she imagined exactly how he must look at this moment. Pacing, slender fingers raking through greasy hair. Still a little boy in a grown man’s body.
Shaken, Louise located him on the GPS but couldn’t bring herself to submit the event notification which would be visible to all on-duty officers. Her finger hovered over the ENTER key. Technology had come a long way since Louise had taken her first call, which had been, coincidentally, a domestic disturbance over at the Owens’ property. They had the internet and smart phones now, but some things weren’t ever going to change. The Owens clan was one of those things.
He’s a monster. The thought came strong and unbidden and she shook her head slightly to clear it. For years she’d defended that boy, made excuses to anyone who would listen. Admittedly, the number of willing listeners had dwindled considerably over the years as Donnie had proceeded to be expelled from junior high school, burn down a barn and two sheds, and sexually molest a seven-year-old boy.
God only knew what else he’d done.
She still had nightmares about the day he’d strode through the streets picking off neighborhood pets with a 0.22-caliber rifle. It was early spring, and the tiny yards were dotted with tulips still gathering the strength to bloom. In reality, he'd been wearing a camouflage vest with many bullet-filled pockets, but in her dreams he was always dressed in something different. Last night it had been the red Dr. Denton pajamas he'd been wearing the night the foster care liaison had dropped him off. How many times between then and now had she recalled that night? Thousands?
It had been fall, but the air was still warm and the windows were cracked open to catch the breeze.
When she held him on her lap for the first time, the wind blew the curtain against his cheek and he startled, uttering a low whimper. A foul smell filled the air. She tried to soothe him by rocking and humming, but his heart was a tiny, battering fist and threatened to blow him wide open. Her own heart was simultaneously broken and soaring in equal parts, a wondrous feeling after so many years of numbness.
So strange, the things which threatened to undo her after all this time. This boy. His small boy pajamas, filthy and much too tiny, even on his slight frame. He’d worn holes right through the bottoms and they ended a jagged couple of inches above his blackened ankles.
When she bathed him that night, she poured dishsoap under the running water, hoping to coax a smile to his face, but he sat in the warm water without acknowledging the mountains of fluffy clouds. His eyes were bruised at the corners and each one of his ribs was clearly visible, as if sketched onto his skin in charcoal pencil. She spoke softly, cajoling and teasing, as she did to the stray cat that hid under their front porch from time to time.
"Don't you worry about a thing, Donnie. Me and Dody will take real good care of you. We’ll make tents and read books. Play with puppets. Fix sandwiches for lunch." He stared at her dully.
He was probably too small for sandwiches, she realized. She made a mental note to look that up in the encyclopedia.
But that had been thirty years ago and Donnie was a grown man now. She could hear his ravings on the other end of the line and it sliced right through her, jolting her back to the present. There wasn’t a soul in town who hadn’t been hurt by Spike in one way or another.
“Spi…um, sir, help is on the way. I’m going to need to you to stay on the line with me while I get more information. Can you do that, please?”
The infuriated bark and the dial tone that followed was answer enough.
The location was a phone booth in Summit Township, a dank and depressing place even on the most glorious of days, but it was the middle of the night and they were currently enduring a February so cold that your fingers could shatter like icicles if you weren’t careful. It was guaranteed to be a long and miserable day for all concerned parties. Aside from the cold, the Summit was permanently coated with a layer of liquor, grime, and poorly executed tattoos.
Louise knew she should report the event according to procedure, using the laminated check sheet even though she’d done it hundreds of times and could do it in her sleep. Report of body near intersection of Lake Boulevard and Bina Avenue, 0103, male caller, no further information available at this time. Proceed with caution and confirm when on-scene.
She did not. She dialed Officer Matts on his personal cell phone.
“Bobby? Louise here. I got a favor to ask. We got a dead baby down on Lake and Bina. Listen, this is between you and me, Bobby. It was Spike who did it. He called it in. Can you go down there… I need you to…”
She trailed off, unsure of how to phrase what she needed to say. But she and Matts had been working together for decades and he relieved her of the burden.
“I’ll make it quick, Louise. It’ll be better for everyone.” Matts disconnected.
She put her head down on the desk and cried in great gulps. She didn’t care if the cleaning crew heard her or not.