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A "Hidden City" Story
Ryan P. Macklin
Start at the beginning of the Hidden City series
The detective examined the avocado-green tile in the kitchen. Years of wear and tear had taken its toll -- no tile escaped cracking, chipping, and discoloration. As he set his coffee mug down, the tile underneath it gave slightly.
"How long have you lived in this apartment, Mr. Reyes?" The detective glanced at his notes when saying his name.
Michael counted silently. "About eight months." He paused, then added, "Why do you ask, officer?"
"Detective. Detective Espinosa," he gently corrected, before taking another sip from the coffee. "I'm just getting all the facts. And how long in Sacramento?"
"I've lived in this city for three years now." Michael took the ice bag off of his cheek, patting the bandage underneath dry.
"Still, you must admit that this coincidence is interesting."
Michael looked away from Espinosa, lacking the energy to retort.
"You save a woman from being..." The detective paused, his face contorting as if forcing a word out, "assaulted, a woman you haven't seen in... how long, again?"
Michael turned his head and glared at him. He was tempted to pull the bandage off and shove the wound underneath right in the detective's face. He could still picture what he saw in the mirror earlier: blood running down his face, his cheek missing a small chunk of skin.
Espinosa continued. "Just before moving here. And you rescued," he stressed that word mockingly, "Heather, on your way home, going a completely different route that you usually do. Is that correct?"
Michael stood up quickly and raised his voice. "Listen, a..." He stopped himself short of swearing, and took a moment to breathe. "Listen, Detective, I already told you that my car was stolen today. I told you the bus was late. I told you the light rail I was on had some malfunction. I told you they dumped us all off at 16th Street. That's why I got off two stops early, instead of driving home, like I would normally do. If your comrades had been competent in dealing with my problem earlier, I would already have the report for that taken care of. If you don't believe the rest, call the Regional Transit yourself." Michael stared at the detective, fueled with rage.
Espinosa stared back, more observational than challenging. "You make it sound like Heather might not be here now if my 'comrades' were 'competent.'" Michael broke eye contact and poured a cup of coffee.
Both men heard the toilet flush. A few moments later, Heather came out of the bedroom. She wore a blue sweatshirt, fitted a bit loose on the sides but snug around her bust, and a long, pale, green skirt. For a moment, Michael just starred, pleasant memories of college infatuation flooding back.
Espinosa smirked -- not at Heather, but as Michael's reaction. He jotted quickly on his notepad.
"It's not the best outfit, but it'll do until I get home." As she spoke, Michael snapped alert. She walked up to him and kissed him on his unwounded cheek. "Thanks." He blushed slightly as she walked away, pouring herself a cup of coffee.
"Miss Christensen, will you be needing a ride to your mother's place in..." He flipped to another page in his notes and glanced briefly before flipping back. "...Land Park?"
She shook her head. "My car's still in the parking lot near..." She was silent, searching for words that didn't hurt to say.
"I understand." Espinosa quickly saved her from uncomfortable silence. "We're pretty much done here. I have a couple more questions, but if you'd like a ride back to your car, I could ask them on the way. I don't think we need to keep Mr. Reyes up any longer than we already have."
Heather stood still, drinking coffee as an excuse to be silent. Her eyes darted around. Espinosa watched Michael, who appeared to be thinking intently, tensing up, and opening his mouth slowly, as if working the will to ask or say something bold. Espinosa shot him down before he could speak. "There will be a patrol car who will escort you home, and periodic patrols by your mother's house throughout the night. Don't worry; you'll be perfectly safe."
Heather nodded and turned to Michael. "You don't mind if I borrow these for a bit, right?"
"Not at all. You can keep 'em. I don't wear that sweatshirt anymore. That skirt was an ex-girlfriend's. She never bothered to pick up her stuff."
"You going to be alright?"
Michael rubbed his cheek. "Yeah. You get some rest, try to relax."
"You, too." Heather looked around the room, searching for something. Giving up, she frowned a bit at Michael, and said, "Let me give you my cell number." Michael grabbed a discarded envelope, post-marked over a month ago, that was lying on top of a pile of papers on his kitchen table. She took a pen from the counter. They wrote down phone numbers on opposite ends and tore the envelope in half.
She eyed the pile on the table. "Don't go losing that now," she joked.
They grinned, laughing mildly. Michael made a show out of getting his wallet and sticking the paper in there. "How's that?"
Espinosa interrupted their moment. "Are you ready, Miss Christensen?" By then, he had moved to the front door, ready to open it.
Heather embraced Michael closely. "Thank you again," she said softly. Espinosa opened the door for her. As she stepped out and Espinosa began to follow her, Michael stuck out his hand reflexively. Espinosa didn't acknowledge it; instead, he walked past, keeping his eyes at eye-level. As he closed the door behind him, he said to Michael, "Good night, Mr. Reyes. I'll be in touch."
As they walked down the stairs to the street, Michael heard the detective ask if Heather was cold, but the sound of their voices stopped carrying before he heard her reply.
What the fuck was that? Asshole, ball-busting detectives, escort cars, overnight patrols? Where was that when I needed it? Michael scoffed as he dialed a number on his cell phone. "Jerry, it's me. Yeah, I'm done here." After the person on the other end of the , he continued, "You wouldn't believe. Anyway, I have a favor to ask. Are you going to be around tomorrow?"
Jerry picked Michael up around two o'clock the next day. As they walked out of Michael's apartment, Jerry asked, "Are you sure you feel like doing this?"
"Of course I am. That prick thinks I had something to do with this. I want to see the place for myself."
"Alright, man. Whatever you need."
Michael opened the passenger door. "You have your camera on you?"
Jerry drove down to The Fox & Goose, an Irish pub two blocks from where the attack took place. He parked, then sat still. Michael immediately unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door when he noticed Jerry's hesitation. Jerry turned to him, looking him in the eye. Michael shot back an impatient look.
Jerry sighed. He already tried talking sense into Michael, and he hoped that this trip would help calm him down. He got out of the car, grabbing his camera bag from the back seat. As they walked away, Jerry looked around to see if anyone noticed them -- he didn't want his car to get towed.
"We could have parked closer on the street," Michael addressed his friend's concern without looking at him.
"Hey, I'm getting a drink afterwards. You are too."
Michael stopped, turned to Jerry, and said matter-of-factly, "Listen, Jerry, I promise that nothing will happen to your car. Now come on." Jerry was a touch more at ease hearing the way he said that.
They approached the scene of last night's incident. Michael was underwhelmed -- he expected the area to be cordoned off with police tape, a cop standing around the scene, or any shred of evidence from the ripped skirt, from some item spilled out of Heather's purse, or from his blood after being punched. Instead, he saw an empty alley, devoid of any sign that a struggle happened here last night. Years of watching police investigation shows disappointed him.
"Here?" Jerry asked.
Michael pondered, feeling unsure. "Let me retrace my steps." He marched to the light rail station a block away, where he was forced to leave the train the night before. Jerry stayed behind, allowing Michael some space.
Michael began walking back, trying to imagine what took place last night. Then, he realized that his briefcase was missing. "Damnit!"
"What?" Jerry shouted back.
"I forgot about my briefcase. I left it on the train, or it was stolen, or something. I don't know. With everything else that happened, it slipped my mind."
Jerry shook his head sympathetically. then looked around, trying to find any sign of what his friend had gone through. A few moments later, Michael ran to where Jerry was standing. "Right here. Right..." Michael's lips tightened around his teeth in disgust and frustration. He was too angry to swear. "..here."
"There's nothing here, man."
Michael snapped back. "You don't think I can't see that?"
"Hey, chill, man. You're getting all uptight right now. I know some serious shit happened last night, but you need to calm down. You're not going to get anywhere just stomping out, pissed off."
Michael took a few deep breaths. "You're right."
"I'm going to go back to the pub, get a drink, leave you a bit of alone time to deal with this. Come by when you're done."
Jerry walked back toward the pub. Michael paced around aimlessly, taking in the complete lack of evidence.
He felt something wet on his cheek, right below his wound. He touched his fingers to his face and looked a them, but didn't see any blood or anything else. Maybe it's unstitching. He took out a paper napkin from his pocket and held it to his cheek. Deciding that this was as good of a reason to leave as any, he began walking away, when he glanced at the razor wire on top of a fence bordering the alley.
He saw a bit of dried blood on one razor. He recalled what the doctor said a she stitched him us last night. "Looks like something razor wire might do." The spool was about a foot higher than his head. Looking around, he couldn't find anything he could use to stand on. He made do standing on his toes, getting as close as possible, using the fence to balance. That's got to be fresh. Damn. Jerry took his camera bag with him.
Jerry was sitting at the bar drinking and reading a magazine when Michael arrived. Jerry pointed to a full pint of Guinness and an empty seat next to him. "I didn't think you'd be long."
"I found something. Let's go."
Jerry set his drink down. "You found something?"
Michael nodded his head toward the door. "Yeah. Blood. I need a picture." His voice was excited, and carried a bit more in the building than Jerry's did.
Jerry looked around the room, noticing people looking up at them as Michael spoke. "How about we go grab a table? I have some food coming up."
"Listen, you get a table, I'll bring these glasses, and we'll talk. Quietly. You know, not so loud that everyone can hear?"
Michael grabbed the closest empty table. As Jerry walked over, he noticed that his cheek didn't feel wet anymore. He fished the napkin out of his pocket ? it was crumpled up, but aside from that it was unused. There was nothing on it.
As Jerry sat down, Michael started in. "There's blood on a bit of razor wire nearby."
"It rained on Thursday. The blood's new."
Jerry sighed. "And?"
"What do you mean, 'and?' There's blood at the scene of the crime. It's evidence!"
"Evidence? Why didn't you say so, Sherlock. Where's this razor wire?"
Jerry's sarcasm stung bitterly. "On a fence at the alley."
"On a fence?"
Jerry pushed the full pint toward Michael. "Drink."
Michael looked down, and looked angrily back at Jerry. "You're taking this lightly. I was fucking cut up at the alley, and Heather was nearly raped. You could show some fucking consideration."
Jerry just shook his head. "Lower your voice. You're loud, you're disturbing people, and you're a goddamned prick."
Michael opened his mouth. Jerry interrupted. "No. Shut up. Listen. You're paranoid, and on top of that you're being a belligerent asshole. This isn't like you at all, so I get that this is stressful and traumatic. Really, I do, but you need to calm the fuck down. Some piece of razor wire, on top of some fence, magically ripped up Heather's dress and attacked you. Is that what you're thinking?"
"No." Michael looked away, avoiding Jerry's gaze. "I just think that it's something. Maybe the guy used razor wire to cut me. I'm missing a piece of my face, man." Michael forced himself to quiet down, but he still had a tone of urgency in his voice.
"I'm not trying to be unsympathetic. You just deal with having your car stolen, having your face cut up, being pushed around by some asshole with a badge, basically a whole shit-storm happened to you. But you're coming unglued. Yes, someone cut you up, but not with razor wire attached to a fence."
Michael leaned in, and hushed his voice. "Listen, man. I didn't tell anyone else this, but I saw something else."
"Drink first, take a breath, and I'll listen."
Michael took a gulp. He paused, tasting the beer, enjoying the beverage in his mouth. "Alright. I saw the guy as he was running away."
Jerry leaned in, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, I saw a silhouette. I didn't actually 'see-him' see him. But, there were claws."
Jerry leaned back. "Come on."
"I'm serious. Claws, and then he leapt away. There was a car there, too, and I'll bet he saw him. But, I didn't get the license plate of that car."
"Claws? This guy punched you, and he had claws?"
"So, he didn't claw you, he punched you?"
"What?" Michael pulled back some.
"Well, if I had magic rape claws, I would have clawed your face, not punched you."
Michael grimaced. "I don't fucking know, man. He hit me, it hurt, but I didn't feel the cut until later."
"And then he ran away? Did he hop that fence?"
"No, he ran out onto the street."
"Taking his claws with him?"
"Yes. I mean, they were freakin' claws, man. Of course he took them with him."
"Hey, man, I don't know as much about strange downtown claw-men as you do. I didn't take that class in college."
Michael stood up quickly and walked outside. He got down about half a block before he stopped, unable to handle the stress anymore. He punched the brick wall near him a few times as he began to cry. He slumped to the ground and buried his head in his hands.
Jerry caught up to him. "Listen, man, I'm sorry. I was a dick." He paused. "I got my camera, let's go take that picture, and come back for a few rounds. I'll buy." Michael looked up at Jerry. Jerry turned away, unable to look him in the eye. "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean... let's go figure this out, okay?" He held out his hand. Michael took it.
As he helped Michael up, Jerry looked behind them to see if anyone had noticed the spectacle. He noticed the blue car parked next to the driver's side of his car pull out. "Maybe I should grab some more equipment, for better lighting."
Michael shook his head. "I don't need anything fancy. I just want a picture."
As Jerry started to object, they heard tires screech from nearby. He snapped around, watching a white truck loaded with various construction materials, slam right into the driver's side of the blue car. The driver of the truck attempted to steer around the blue car while braking, hoping the other driver would pull back in to avoid an accident; instead, the other driver just froze as he heard the tires squeal, unable to respond to the view of a large truck about to hit him.
Other, less severe collisions immediately followed. After starring into the mess before them, soaking the vision in, Jerry ran to his car. Michael continued to stand there, dumbfounded. Jerry fished out the pen light on his keychain, looking the rear on his car over carefully, as others behind him began to help the injured. After spending a couple minutes surveying, he stood up, starring in disbelief.
"Son of a bitch!" Another man swore, breaking Jerry's shock. Jerry turned his heard toward the outburst. A middle-aged man stood next to a minivan parked on the other side of the blue car. The right-rear side was smashed by the front of the blue car, shattering the plastic tail-limit covering and possibly jamming the rear hatch. The man noticed Jerry looking at him.
"How bad's yours?" The man called out to Jerry.
Jerry didn't have the words to express himself, so instead he shrugged and pointed toward the rear of his car. The man walked over to take a look.
There wasn't a scratch. The blue car had stopped less than an inch short of hitting his car.
The man scoffed. "Some guys get all the luck." He walked back to his own vehicle.
Jerry shook his head, and looking up at Michael. Michael looked back at Jerry, and scarred himself with a thought.
I promised you that nothing would happen to your car.
It started to rain.
Story by Ryan P. Macklin, Copyright 2006
Photo by Jeremy Tidwell & Sasha Pixlee, Copyright 2006