Don’t get too involved is one of the first things they tell you when you join the force. Jeremy Poe has never had a problem with that one until now. He blames it on the magic and persuasion of the blue moon hanging overhead, or maybe it was just the magic of Saylor Grace herself. Either way, he’s satisfied that this is a gamble totally worth taking.
Speaking of gambles, Saylor’s made a huge one by driving her beat-up old car all the way across the country with nothing in her pocket except her raw talent. It was supposed to be a safe bet, it was supposed to be forever… sometimes, ‘forever,’ has a funny way of working out.
“Ma’am, are you okay? Are you hurt?” She looked up at me and I was rocked to my core. Nearly put back on my ass by a pair of eyes that belonged on a fairy princess out of some fairy tale, not set in a human face. Especially one as ethereal and as pretty as hers.
She had one deep bronze eye edged in green except for one wedge of blue that matched the other eye which was a startling blue that seemed too blue to be real.
“I’m not hurt, I’m okay,” she said and yet her voice betrayed her some. It was exceedingly brittle but still with an undercurrent of steel to it. She’d been shaken up. Hard. But she was holding it together. The adrenaline crash hadn’t come yet.
“Okay, you got your ID?” I asked her, trying to get ahead of it and the information I needed before the potential hysterics and inevitable waterworks.
She pulled her small utilitarian purse around from behind her hip, and I was glad she at least had that on her. That the perp hadn’t gotten away with her complete identity. Bad enough he got her car, and maybe her phone. At least she was spared from having to cancel all her credit cards, etc. I took the laminated rectangle from her fingers that was her identification and frowned at the unfamiliar license image and setup.
“Washington State?” I asked. “A little far from home, aren’t you?”
“This was supposed to be my new home,” she said miserably and the harsh sigh that fell from her lips sent out some bad vibes.
I was writing down her info, Saylor Grace Dresden, last known address some place called Olympia in Washington State, which was clear across the country and almost then some it was so far west from here. Depending on the route she took, she had a couple of mountain ranges between her and Indigo City.
“Supposed to be?” I asked absently.
“My boyfriend and I have been together in a long distance relationship for close to five years – or, well, we were together. The plan was that I was going to join him out here. I thought everything was fine and that he was as excited as I was. Except, when I got here and knocked on his apartment door, he didn’t look happy to see me. He said he had cold feet and that this was a really bad idea and he was sorry and just shut the door in my face. I was trying to find a place to park for the night and figure out what to do next when – welcome to the city – this guy ripped open my door, shoved a gun in my face, and told me to get out of my car.”
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Dresden. That’s not how I want to hear someone’s been welcomed to Indigo City. Can you tell me what kind of car you drive?”
“Uh, yeah, it’s a 1994 maroon-ish Volkswagen Golf and has one black fender and two black doors on the driver’s side. Um, it’s pretty banged up and has literally all my stuff in it.”
She wouldn’t look at me, her voice starting to wobble a little as she stared up the night-dark street. Her eyes misting over, she sniffed and looked at the ground so I wouldn’t see her cry and my heart went out to her – it really did.
“Can you tell me what your assailant looked like?”
“Ah, yeah. Um, he was black. I know that sounds awful, but it’s the truth.”
“No need to apologize,” I told her. “Anything else you can remember about him?”
“The gun was, um, black and a lot like yours, I guess.”
“What about clothing? Did you see what he was wearing?”
While I talked with Saylor, my partner was saddled with the other two witnesses over by our patrol car. I took down her description of the guy and radioed in the details about both the perp and her car to dispatch to put out as an all-points bulletin.
“I’m really sorry this happened to you,” I reiterated and I meant it. It was a shitty position to be in.
“I honestly don’t even really care about the car or any of the clothes – it’s just my granddad’s guitar was in the back seat and I really want it back,” she said and wiped at her face.
“Okay, is there anything else you can tell me about the car?” I asked. “Do you happen to know the plate number or anything?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s Washington plates.” She rolled those spectacular eyes of hers and added sardonically, “Obviously.” She blew out an unhappy breath and rattled off the number, peeking around my arm at my notepad to make sure I got it right. “Five-zero-four dash the letters W, D, and E.”
I got on the radio and called it in, reiterating the make, model, and adding the detail of the plate number for dispatch to add to the APB out on the car.
There was no telling what the guy was running from but most times a carjacking like that? The perp was trying to make a getaway from something much worse, more violent, and I couldn’t exactly say I was surprised about that, especially in this neighborhood. A lot of shit went down in this part of the city, unfortunately. It was one of the poorer neighborhoods full of drugs with a bunch of robberies going down weekly.
“Can I get you a ride somewhere?” I asked her, and she shook her head, miserably thrusting her hands into her jacket pockets.
“Even if you could, it’s not like I have any money for a hotel or anyplace to go. I had about forty bucks left to my name and that was in my guitar case.”
“Wow. You literally put everything on this guy, huh?” I asked and tried to keep any hint of accusation or derision out of my tone. She didn’t need judgment right now. It was probably the last thing she needed to be honest – I was pretty sure she knew exactly how stupid it was to have come all the way across the country for a guy. I felt my jaw tighten. Fucking scumbag to do her like that.
“You really trusted him, didn’t you?” I asked softly and she looked up at me sharply.
“Yeah,” she said quietly and tears slipped over her bottom lashes and coursed down her pale cheeks. There was something so raw and beautiful about it. The hurt radiating from her face, the ache in her heart represented in her eyes. She looked so tired, washed out by the lights strobing from the top of my car – her hair kissed by the light of the blue moon hanging low in the sky overhead.
For some reason, her pain and her fear was resonating with me unlike any other call I’d taken thus far. I didn’t quite know what I was thinking but there was something brewing in the back of my mind. I was just waiting for it to hit the front of my consciousness so I knew what it was.
Before any thoughts were fully formed, my radio crackled to life at my shoulder. Both my partner and I looked at each other.
“What?” Saylor asked nervously. “What is it?”
“Might have found your car, honey. Come on and get in.” My partner opened the back door of our patrol car and Saylor hesitated. She didn’t look nervous but there was something there. Maybe a bad memory when it came to the cops back where she was from. She looked up at me and I smiled and gave her a nod.
“We’ll take you to it,” I said, and put a light hand on the back of her shoulder. She stared me in the eyes for a long moment before giving a light nod and letting me guide her to the back of the car. I put my hand on her head absently to protect it from the roof and she settled into the hard plastic seat.
The cop who was helping me shook his head adamantly and spoke in a tone too quiet for me to hear, the expression on his face was clear, though. He was angry. Righteously so and on my behalf and he was fighting it out with this guy to get me at least some of my belongings. I gazed past him, longingly, at my guitar case sitting on top of the rest of my worldly goods in the back seat of my car.
It was right there, and I knew they wouldn’t let me anywhere near my car in the impound yard without paying up first. At least, not if they were anything like the cops back in Washington. That’d been a nightmare the one and only time I’d managed to get towed, and I had done more than a few things I wasn’t proud of to get my car out before the fees got so high I couldn’t.
The officer helping me now swore, spit on the ground in his fury and stalked back over to me, and I felt my heart sink.
“Thanks for trying,” I said faintly, defeated.
“Come on, I’m going to take you to a shelter for tonight,” he said and gently took my elbow. His partner was standing in the street directing traffic and he called out to him.
His partner turned and I was numb and indifferent as he told him he was taking me to some homeless shelter on Third Avenue and that he’d come back to get him. His partner nodded and waved a random car through the intersection. It was busier on this street than it had been on Cody’s. God, just the thought of his name sent a bitterness roiling in my mouth enough I wanted to spit.
He opened the back door of his patrol car for me and I got in. I was so angry at life literally kicking me in the balls once again, my eyes were growing misty with hot tears. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, and I wanted to rage for all the good it would do – but I couldn’t. It wasn’t seemly. That and I didn’t want to be admitted on a psych hold for being crazy when I wasn’t.
He closed the door behind me and I was grateful for the fact that the hard plastic seat felt heated. Likely as a byproduct of being over the car’s exhaust system, but I would take it. It was a brisk fall evening heading into winter out there and the only good thing was the sky was clear. I would take dry cold over wet cold any day of the week. Washington had always been a wet sort of cold that had seeped in around your edges until you were frozen to your very soul.
In other words, not very pleasant.
“Okay,” he said, getting into the driver’s seat with an exhaled groan. “Away we go.”
“Thanks,” I said dully.
“For? I’m afraid I couldn’t do much back there.”
“You tried,” I said honestly. “That’s a lot more than I can say about most people when it comes to me.”
“Tough life, I take it,” he said.
“Kind of,” I agreed. “Mostly went downhill after fifteen.”
“How old are you now?” he asked.
“Old enough to know that it could suck worse,” I said and sighed.
“It could always be worse no matter how hard it sucks,” he said. “Don’t discount the fact that what happened to you tonight was beyond a shitty situation.”
“Trust me, I don’t,” I said. “Still, there’s nothing I can really do about it. I just need to let it go and figure out where to go from here.”
“I see,” he said and we lapsed into a silence. I was okay with that. I didn’t want to talk anyway. In fact, I was actually kind of grateful he hadn’t pried about my past. I was a firm believer everyone had one and that in a lot of cases it should stay right behind them where it belonged. The journey was about the road ahead, not the one you’d already traveled.
“Out of everything in your car,” he said suddenly, snapping me out of my inner monologue, “name three things you can’t live without.”
“My guitar in the back seat, my backpack on the front passenger floorboard, and the small carryon suitcase in the back seat under the guitar, in that order – why?”
“Just curious,” he said and blew out a breath, pulling up to the curb in front of an odd little building.
It looked like an old roadside motel, except it’d been modified to an extent and really wasn’t that big. The bottom floor was all solid garage doors, three of them in a row, and the second floor had a staircase leading up from one side of the building along an open-air walkway with a spindly metal railing bent in some places. There were three doors that faced the street, but it looked like the doors went around all four sides of the building.
“Come on, we’re here.”
“This doesn’t look like a homeless shelter,” I said and he got out of the car.
He opened up the back door to let me out and said, “That’s because it’s not. I just told the rest of them that to keep me out of trouble.”
“Trouble?” I asked curiously. “Where are we?”
“Someplace safe,” he said, shutting the door behind me as I stood in front of the building gazing up at the cracked and flaking blue-white paint between and above the garage doors.
“Follow me,” he said and I fell in to step just behind him as he went around the side of the building, along a narrow alley to the stairs leading up to that second floor.
“This isn’t a homeless shelter,” I said nervously and he sighed and paused midway up the steps. He looked over the railing down at me and I bit my bottom lip and looked up. Though the neighborhood was rundown and poor, the streetlights were intact and the moon hung low in the sky illuminating things quite well. I stared up into a sincere pair of green eyes the color of new spring and he stared back searching my face.
“This is my place,” he said finally. “And I could get into a lot of trouble for even considering this, but I can tell you’ve been through a lot and I just really want you to be safe tonight.”
“You brought me to your apartment?” I asked and blinked one long slow blink of an amalgamation of shock, confusion, and yeah – even a little fear.
“Hey, whoa, nothing like that, I promise you. I really am one of the good guys. If you want to go to the shelter, I completely understand I mean – shit… I’m fucking this up, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, kinda,” I said a little hollowly. “First things first, um, what is your name?”
“Oh, shit – are you serious? I didn’t tell you?” He looked like he’d sucked on a lemon and I laughed lightly.
“You might have,” I said, coming around to the bottom of the stairs and starting my way up. “I honestly can’t remember everything. Is that weird?”
“Shock,” he said. “It’s not weird. Look, I’ve never done anything like this in my life, and it’s all up to you on what you want to do but my name is Jeremy. Jeremy Poe, but everyone just calls me Poe.”
“Hi, Poe. I’m Saylor.”
“Saylor Grace, yeah. I know. I read it on your license.”
I nodded faintly and sighed, leaning a hip against the metal rail, suddenly feeling like I had a thousand pound boulder sitting between my shoulder blades, weighing me down.
“Look, I can let you in. You can take a hot shower, scrounge through my drawers, find something, and sleep for the rest of my shift. When I get home in a few hours, we can figure out what to do from there… what do you say?”
I bit my bottom lip and honestly, I was out of ideas and I really didn’t want to crash in a shelter tonight. This wasn’t like back home. I didn’t know anybody here and so far? Indigo City had not been kind… except for this man.
I rolled the dice and took the risk.
Text Copyright © 2020 A.J. Downey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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