by Robert W. Walker
Members of the Atlanta Police Department now came rushing in, immediately stopped by the sight of former detective Marcus Theodore Rydell pacing like a trapped bull.
“Hiya, Denny Hodges isn’t it?” asked Marcus, a crooked smile for the first uniformed cop on the scene.
His partner, Janine Dobbins, all but dropped her teeth even as she asked, “What’re you doing here, Rydell? You involved in another . . . I mean—”
“Murder? Killing, you mean?” he replied, the quirky half smile lifting his laugh lines, the wrinkles around the eyes.
She pointed at the bloody victim with her nightstick. “If you say so.”
“Yeah, arrest me, Dobbins!” He jammed his hands out. Ready for the cuffs. “A danger to myself and others.”
“Knock it off, Rydell and tell us what’s happened here?” asked Hodges, showing a modicum of respect for the former police detective turned private eye.
“I live just below. Heard the screams. Came runnin’. He was already dead.”
“Yeah really!” He pointed to his bare feet. “Walls’re pretty thin. Ceiling even thinner.”
A jackhammer and the wrecking ball down the street sounded; in fact, they sounded as if in the next room.
Adjusting to the noise, Dobbins shouted, “Heard the killing as it occurred, you saying?” Dobbins stood with hands on hips, curvy and plain-featured, her hips sporting a radio, a gun, and the scabbard for the nightstick she continued to punctuate with.
“Heard a little child’s high-pitched voice after the plaster started raining down on me,” Marcus replied, his voice so strong he needn’t shout. “I came like a comet.”
“He did!” shouted one bystander from the crowd around the door.
“But . . .” continued Marcus, “but it was too late for Mr. Quinn here.”
“Too late?” asked Dobbins like an accusation. He knew she was thinking, too late again.
“Too late for this sick-o, child-molesting sonofabitch, yeah, but not for the kid.”
“You saying a kid did this?” asked Hodges.
“Hey kids’ve been known to kill for a variety of reasons, not the least being revenge on a scumbag who’s held ’em captive. The girl defended herself; picked up a hammer the bastard threatened her with.” He indicated the hammer alongside the body. “’Fraid I picked it up, too. Sorry.”
“How old’s this kid?” asked Dobbins in the tone of an interrogator.
“Eleven, maybe twelve’d be my guess,” he lied. “Dunno for sure. You’ll have to ask her, but then she may not know herself.”
“Where’s the girl now?” she pressed, looking about.
“Bathroom and she has a doctor from Memorial in there with her.” He indicated the bathroom door. “Weapon she used to defend herself with—” he was careful to not call it a murder weapon and to keep repeating the term self defense in all its permutations—“is there.” He knew from experience that DA’s picked up on the wording of a police report. If the cops used the right wording, the DA would not be going out of his way to prosecute a murder of a defenseless man killed in his sleep. Not here, not today.
“So you handled the weapon?” asked Denny, jotting down Marcus’s remarks in shorthand.
“I had to get it outta her hand; kid was traumatized. And hey, don’t misquote me, okay?”
“Not a chance, Mr. Rydell.”
“Give me a moment with the girl, will you?” Marcus then asked.
“Don’t know if that’s a good idea,” countered Dobbins, her eyes flashing at Denny’s.
“I’m the one found her like this; I just want her to know she can call me any time for help, day or night. Besides, she doesn’t like cops. Says a cop sold her to this creep.”
“An Atlanta cop? No way,” replied Denney Hodges. Dobbins looked equally dubious.
“Says a cop sold her to this bag of shit Quinn.” He then brushed past them, ignoring any objections. He next rapped on the bathroom door and heard the doctor from inside say, “Just a minute. Toweling off.”
Marcus hesitated a moment. “I’m comin’ in.” He stepped inside to find that the pretty, young Dr. Holley had the shivering girl cocooned in a huge towel. “Listen up, the both of you,” he whispered, automatically gaining their attention. “Things could go badly for you, Kim, unless we all keep a secret.”
“What secret?” asked Dr. Holley.
“Don’t tell anyone—no one—ever that the first blow to the head of Mr. Turd in there was while he was sleeping, understood?”
“He was sleeping,” Kim managed.
“No, he was raping you again. Held the camera over you. While raping you, you got hold of the hammer. Understood?”
“Are you asking the child to lie?” Dr. Holley held Kim against her. “That’d be wrong.”
“Keep your voice down.” He met the doctor’s lovely eyes. “Sometimes it takes a lie to prove a truth.” Rydell squatted to be eye to eye with the girl. “Look, Kim, so far as anyone need know, Pigman in there was awake when you defended yourself against him. Nod if you understand.”
Kim nodded successively.
“He was a-a-awake.”
“When you struck him, yes, he was awake and attacking you. Understand, Kim?”
“He attack me.”
“Not for the first time.”
“No, not first time.”
Rydell caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and he thought, how terrible I look. He’d not slept well for months.
“You expect me to stand by while you coach the child?” asked Dr. Mallory at his shoulder.
“Otherwise, they can put Kim behind bars.”
“Not for what she did.”
“Yes, for what she did.”
“That’s crazy,” said Dr. Holley. “The man was molesting her.”
“I know the law, and the law will jail her or juvvie-hall her if she doesn’t do exactly as I say.”
“The detectives and the uniformed cops’ll be sympathetic to the girl’s abuse. They’ll do a rape kit.”
“I know all that but still—”
“Kim’s what, fourteen, fifteen? They’re going to have to rule out consent, and it’ll muddy the waters if they think she’s a runaway and a prostitute. Her innocence’ll be questioned, whether she was kidnapped, held against her will, or came here willingly.”
Kat Holley watched Rydell fill the washbasin with water, throw gobs of it into his face and eyes and then towel off. She watched him reach out then with a calm hand to touch and reassure the girl by fingering her cheekbone. “Remember, Kim, be brave and don’t volunteer any information, and once you tell a story don’t change one word. (Omitx: ever waiver from it, not an inch.) And at some point, I’m going to want you to describe the policeman who sold you to Mr. Turd in there.”
“His name is Quinn. He tell me his name is Quinn. Mr. Quinn.”
“No need to be polite to a monster. He doesn’t deserve the respect of being called Mister. Just remember, you defended yourself against the turd in there?”
“Yes, Quinn,” she reminded him.
“Sounds like a name for a troll. Fits, doesn’t it? So did you ever hear what he called the other man, the one who sold you to him?” For the first time in months, Rydell felt alive inside.
“Smith . . . Mr. Smith.”
“Of course, Smith. Makes perfect sense.”
“Whataya think?” asked Kat.
“I rather doubt his real name’s Smith.”
“She frowned at this. “Thanks for your taking the time to advise the girl. I’ll stick with her through the hospital procedure, and I’ll get social services involved.”
“Like before, huh?”
“It’s the only game in town, sorry.”
He put on a smile for Kat Holley. “I know some people over there; I’ll send someone who gives a damn to meet you at Memorial.” Rydell, gave the child a big thumbs up. “There’s a stretcher outside, Kim. You want a ride? Ride like an Empress? Big strong men carrying you, like on a magic carpet ride?”
“I thought the stretcher was for the dead turd,” said Dr. Holley.
“Nahhh . . . he can walk,” joked Marcus. “Besides, CSI team has to come in, do their thing before the body’s removed. We’ll let Kim take the stretcher.”
Dr. Holley touched his hand, the one that’d reached out to Kim. “You’re a good guy, you know that?”
He was taken by surprise at this. “Not really.”
“World needs more like you.”
Marcus thought about his sad dance with his depression and his Glock only a half hour before. He jokingly indicated his puffed up chest, beating it as an ape might. “I strong like bull.” He managed a weak smile.
“Make light of it if you like, but I know better.”
“Take care of the girl, Doc, and follow my lead, or you’ll be visiting Kim here in prison where her cesspool education continues.”
The silence between them was like an impenetrable door for a long moment. He finally added, “So, it’s up to you, and you, Kim . . . keep silent on the subject of Quinn’s being asleep when you first struck him, understand? No one must know that the first blow came while he was totally defenseless, got it?”
Dr. Holley nodded. “Got it. We got it.”
The large-eyed child repeated the words. “Got it.”
Marcus then added, “Don’t want some blind-justice DA getting hold of her for a law that’s all wrong for the circumstances.”
“Sure, sure.” Dr. Holley held Kim’s hand now. “Just thank God you dropped whatever and came running.”
“Instinctive for a former cop, I guess. Nothing heroic in it.”
“We might have a fight over that one.”
“When?” he said automatically but not seriously.
“Over drinks maybe at O’Dule’s? Later?”
“What do you know of O’Dule’s?”
“ I’ve seen you there.”
“Why haven’t I noticed?”
Dobbins or Hodges began banging on the door, Dobbins calling out, “You comin’ out, Rydell, or do I gotta come in there and get you?”
“Sounds like she likes you,” commented Holley.
“Ahhh, yeah, a real fan.” Marcus yelled through the door. “We’re comin’!”
“So…what about it?” the dirty blond asked.
“About it? Oh, drinks? Really? You serious, Doc?”
“Say around nine tonight?”
He hesitated. “Well . . . I mean . . . if—”
“If what?” She flashed a beatific smile.
“If I can get finished with my business,” he replied, the thought of the gun deep in his throat tasting of metal.
“You just find a way to get there. I want to get to know more about you, Detective.”
He laughed. “No one’s called me that in a long time.”
“I hear once a detective, always a detective.”
“And you know this how?”
“I was married to one, or rather he’d’ve been a detective . . . if he’d ever had the chance to take the exam.”
“Killed in the line of duty. Got a tightly folded flag . . . handed to me at the funeral.” She looked as if she might tear up.
“I’m so sorry.”
“People kept telling me time alone helps, but it’s not working for me.”
Me neither, he thought but said nothing.
“I’m never going to be over it,” she continued, “so I quit trying. It’s always there. Every waking hour.”
“I know what you mean. Ahhh, listen, I’ll ahhh . . . see you at O’Dule’s, doctor,” he lied.
“Ahhh . . . yeah, promise.”