After the events of Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball, Reason Nelson embarks on a personal journey of discovery that will take him closer to the edge. He struggles with the loss of his friend, coming to grips with a new outlook on life that means sacrificing the things he holds dear.
If you are familiar with Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball, you should be able to figure out what’s going on in this book without too much trouble. I hope you enjoy it and be sure to contact me through my link on the Home page with your comments.
Reason awoke to the beam of a flashlight swinging from his face to the battered face of Mike Glass. He was still in a daze, slightly disoriented, and there was a loud buzzing in his ears.
A voice came from out of the darkness: “You idiots! Neither one of these two fit the description I gave you. I told you it was a man. Not kid. Nor kids. But a man. Big, tall, all dressed in black. You fools nearly killed the wrong persons!”
Another voice drifted from out of the shadows causing Reason to turn his head. “Hell, you guys. This here is Reason Nelson. He’s cool. He wouldn’t have done it. Besides, his brother works for the cops. You might have stumbled onto some serious stuff.”
Reason heard someone else say, “How were we to know? Griffin just started shooting at the first person we had seen. Besides, Ryan, when we came out of the party and saw you leaning over Crosby And crying, we thought you said some kid shot him.”
“I said,” a voice angrily declared, “a man! I told you it was some weird looking guy that I saw walking away from Crosby’s body.” The boy who said this sounded like he was on the verge of tears.
“Weird looking guy?” another kid asked. He pointed at Mike Glass. “He’s pretty weird looking if he you ask me.”
Reason shook his head. “Someone…someone got shot?” he hoarsely asked.
A kid kneeled down beside him, one that he knew from school.
“Reason. Hey, I’m real sorry about this. These dudes are Southsiders, here in Havelock at a party. They made a mistake. Thought you were someone else.”
Reason gave the slender kid a confused, out of focus look.
“Bill Graff from Mickle Jr. High,” said the boy.
“I know .. I know who you are,” responded Reason. He asked again, “Someone got shot?”
The kid named Ryan answered, “Yeah. It was my cousin.” He sniffled loudly, trying to harness his emotions. “Keith Crosby. I found him outside the party. Some dude was walking away from him … laughing.”
Still having difficulty keeping everything in his vision from spinning, Reason gestured to the culvert and the Ballard tunnels nearly two blocks away.
“There was some dude standing down there. Did he look like him?”
Suddenly the atmosphere was electric again. Where only moments ago there had been a very violent fight that had dwindled down to the exchange of baffled looks and softly muttered apologies, there was now a sense of terror and panic. The group of boys all faced the tunnels that Reason had indicated.
A man stood there silently watching them. A haunting black figure nearly as dark as the shadows that surrounded him. Still some distance away, but threateningly too close for any of the boys who fearfully watched him.
“Cliff? Where’s your gun?” the tall blond kid quickly asked.
“Right here,” another boy answered. “But I used up all the bullets chasing these guys!”
If Reason hadn’t been so dizzy he would have stood up and decked the kid for shooting at him in the first place, but even he sensed the danger that the others were feeling. This wasn’t the time or place to be settling scores.
Two kids, one of them Graff from his school, helped him to his feet. “We got to get out of here, Nelson. I think that’s the man who killed Crosby.”
Two other boys were hauling Mike Glass to his feet also. As they all bunched together and started toward the opening of the other sewer, one of the kids looked to Reason. “Sorry about slugging on you.” He then rubbed his forehead, adding, “Man, can you ever hit hard. You ’bout put my lights out!”
“Shut up and keep moving!” ordered Ryan in the lead. “That guy is moving this way. I say we ditch him in this other set of storm sewers.”
No one argued. They all, with hasty, backwards glances, sloshed through the stream and entered the tunnels at a run. “He’s coming!” a voice echoed off the dark, damp walls closing in around them. “He’s coming right behind us!”
Reason was glad Graff and the other kid were helping him along. He was still too groggy to know where he was going by himself. He heard vague whisperings around him, the others talk-ing low amongst themselves for fear of giving their exact location away, in hopes that the man would not come charging through the darkness after them.
“What’d we do to him? Why’s he after us?” someone ahead asked.
“If that’s the same man, why did he kill Crosby?” questioned Ryan. “I say he’s a crazy. I say there’s a lunatic running the streets of Havelock!”
Another voice whispered, “He’s not on the streets of Havelock anymore. He’s right behind us, in a Havelock sewer system!”
“Hush!” Graff warned, next to Reason. “He’ll know right where we are if you keep yelling!”
“Is he even coming?” another boy fearfully asked. “Maybe he decided to give it up. Probably can’t see in this dark sewer. I know I can’t hardly see anything.”
Ryan brought them all to a stop. “Hold it,” he demanded. “Let’s listen.”
Footsteps sounded from a distance behind them. No one had to order them to keep moving.
“He’s coming!” the fat kid helping Glass cited out. “I knew he would still be coming! He wants to kill us all!”
“Shut up!” whispered Ryan. The other kid helping Reason spoke only loud enough for Reason and Graff to hear. “Is this kid’s brother really a cop?”
Reason heard Graff tell him, “No, not a cop. He’s an informant who works for some detective.”
The other kid responded in disgust, his hold on Reason’s arm nearly breaking off. “He’s a narc? A damned-ted low class narc?”
“Something like that,” answered Graff.
“Nothing like that,” stated Reason as he stumbled along between them.
“Yeah, well narc or cop,” said the kid, “neither one is any good!”
Graff muttered, “Maybe so. But right now I wished we had a narc or a cop around. They just might stop that fruitcake behind us!”
“Mediator,” mumbled Reason, yet neither seemed to hear him. The footsteps behind them had become increasingly louder. The man was gaining on them. Despite the faster pace they took up, Reason was still determined to explain, “Mediator. Not a narc. Not a cop. My brother is a mediator.” The man began running behind them and no one listened to Reason’s rambling. His legs moving in time with the kids around him, Reason’s thoughts suddenly drifted elsewhere:
The argument had been between he and his best friend Collin.
“Boone’s not a narc,” Collin defended. I know he works for Shep, but he’s not really a narc.”
“No,” answered Reason. “That’s what Shep said. He’s not really an informant, either. Shep calls him something else … something like an … an Equalizer .. or an Exterminator.”
Collin had hesitated before speaking. “Sounds like he works for pest control instead of the cops.” Reason had wrinkled his nose. “Well, I don’t have the right word for it. It’s something that means Boone is a go between. He’s like a bridge between the cops and the kids.”
Collin had asked, “A Mediator?”
“Yeah, that’s it!” stated Reason. “That’s exactly what Shep called him. A Mediator! Shep says Boone is more valuable to him than any narc or informant. He says Boone is gonna make a great detective someday. Imagine, my brother the cop!”
As they ran in the depths of the sewer, Reason said, “That’s who would put a stop to this maniac behind us.” He was still finding it hard to place one leg before the other, yet alert enough to know he would be done for if he stopped. He cursed at the dizziness that threatened to overwhelm him and murmured, “That’s who we need. My brother. He’d stop that dude.”
His thoughts drifted once more:
His brother, Boone, was now working for the Lincoln Police Department. His own brother was working for one of the city’s top detectives. Boone was Detective Neal Shepherd’s main contact with the street and with the kids who roamed them. And Reason wasn’t sure he liked it. After all, Boone had been quite a hell-raiser himself once. He wasn’t into drugs, and he had never dealt, but he was one of Havelock’s rowdies, and he had spread his share of trouble on the streets. He had been a brother Reason was proud to claim as his own. No one messed with Boone Nelson. He was a good fighter, and he had friends on both sides of the fence, freaks and jocks alike. No one ever heard bad rumors about him at parties. Almost everyone spoke highly of Boone Nelson. There had especially been a lot of macho-hero stuff spread around shortly after Boone had saved Reason from Smith and Jones, two men who had murdered an informant, and who then wanted to murder Reason because he had hidden evidence on their hit. Boone hadn’t done all the saving or the fighting that night, yet he had been the main enforcer, and had really cracked some heads.
Reason was proud of Boone. But he was uncertain where his brother was heading. Five months ago the cops of Lincoln were investigating the death of four youths. As sources reported, four kids had died at a party from an apparent drug overdose. At first, all evidence confiscated from the party led police to believe that the youths had been smoking marijuana taken from a bag laced with PCP. But when tests came back from the lab, and autopsies were performed, it turned out that the bag of marijuana had not contained any traces of Angel Dust. Instead it was loaded with strychnine, a deadly poison used in killing rats. Someone had murdered the four pot-smoking teenagers. Someone had maliciously powdered the bag before it was sold on the streets. And the four kids who had purchased the bag had unknowingly bought and paid for their own quick ride to the grave. The Lincoln police desperately needed to find out who the mysterious someone was before it happened again. They had no suspects, no clear-cut motives, not even a lead to go on. It was then that Boone contacted Detective Neal Shepherd, one of the city’s chief narcotics officers. He phoned the detective on to say that he might have an idea as to who was responsible for lacing the bag.
“He’s still right behind us!” declared Ryan. “How far does this tunnel run? How far until we can get out of here?”
“Yeah, really,” said another youth, “I don’t want to die in no damned sewer!”
Graff, a Havelock resident familiar with the sewer system, said, “Four more blocks. Around the next bend we should see the far end. There will be a little light shining from outside. There’s a street light right above the exit.”
No one talked for a few moments. All of them ran on, each silently hoping or even praying they made it to safety. Rapid foot-steps echoed down the tunnel from the darkness behind.
Even now, as they ran, Reason could remember word for word the conversation between him and Boone when he learned Boone was going to give information to Detective Shepherd.
“You’re actually going to narc?” Reason had shouted incredulously. Before Boone could answer, Reason accused him. “My brother is going to become a narc! A damned low-class scum of society!” Boone had slammed his hand on the table. “Oh hell, Reason! Open up your eyes! You don’t even know what a narc is!”
Reason had angrily responded, “Anyone who turns someone in for selling or doing drugs is a narc. They’re sly and they’re lowly, I know that for sure!”
Boone had to stand for that one. Reason was sure he had blasted him right between the eyes with his definition. “Oh, yeah!” Boone had snapped. “And how sly and lowly are these people who make money off kids whose lives will never be the same once they get some bad stuff? just what sets them up to be the good guys in this whole damn drug war? Good God, Reason, they’re not heroes. In reality, they’re the bad guys, the crooks, the soul-stealers.”
“Well,” Reason had countered, “these dealers are not as bad as narcs!”
Boone had almost spit. “Hell, Reason, you’re learning your values in the wrong places. You’ve been listening to crap-talk by the wrong people far too long. If there weren’t narcs or agents fighting drugs, this city, this state, this country would be flooded with them. How many wasted people do you know? Huh? How many kids do you know, that you can tell drugs made them wafer-thin in the head?”
Reason had shrugged. “Not that many. Maybe two or three. But-.”
“But,” Boone had cut in, “if drugs were allowed to flow in here like a river, how many kids do you think would get washed away? Two or three? Ten or twenty? Come on, kid! Someone, somewhere, at sometime, has to take a stand. Someone has to fight in this war!”
Reason had been silenced by Boone’s powerful statement. For once, he hadn’t had a comeback. Boone had continued, “Besides, this guy who poisoned these kids is not just a dealer. He’s a killer. And I think I know how to find out who it is.”
Reason had shot back, “Oh yeah just use one of your kids to narc for you!”
“You want more kids to die? If I can get information from my kids that could solve this murder and save lives, I’ll be damned if I’ll be stopped because my little brother thinks I’m a narc for doing it!”
“I see the exit,” shouted one of the kids running beside Reason. “There’s a street light shining down from above.”
Everyone began to pick up speed. Reason was beginning to get his balance back. Things around him were becoming less fuzzy. He was tempted to pull away from Graff and the other boy who assisted him, but thought he’d wait until they reached the outside.
“What’d we do when we get out of here?” someone yelled. “What if he’s still after us? What if he has a gun? What if-.”
Ryan cut him off, saying, “We’ll split up. We’ll take off running in all directions. That should allow him off.”
“Someone should call the cops,” the stocky kid helping Glass said. “Someone should report that Crosby got killed.”
“Someone at the party probably already did call the cops,” Ryan stated. “Maybe we should all head back there. A cop would be a welcome sight about now.”
Reason muttered to no one in particular, “He’s not a cop. Not a narc. Not an informant. He’s a-.” And once again his legs were moving rapidly and his mind wandered to thoughts about his brother again:
That was another thing that bothered Reason. Boone had become a Volunteer Probation Officer through Lincoln’s juvenile Court System. He had had enough experience in dealing with Reason over the years that he was considered qualified to work with delinquent youth. Highly recommended and referred by Reason’s junior probation officer, Janice Thurston, Boone had become fairly active as a probation officer for half-a-dozen troubled kids. It was a role he took quite seriously. To think that his own brother was a APO bugged Reason to no end. It was one of Boone’s kids who claimed he knew who sold the bag laced with poison. He claimed he had been there when the buy went down.
“Look,” Boone had finally concluded. “If there’s someone out there cruel enough to sell poisoned crap to kids, then there ought to be someone else out there who’s got sense enough to stop them! And if you consider me a narc for that, then I feel sorry for you. For someone who has gone straight and quit drugs, you sure have a warped sense of reality!”
Reason remembered the debate. He also recalled how he had actually felt a lot better when Boone’s information led to the arrest of the murder suspect. Four kids had died because of one crazy. And because of his brother, the lunatic was now off the street.
Now it all came down to it, Reason no longer considered Boone a narc. He was, as Shep said, a Mediator, a bridge between the kids and cops. And a damned good one at that.
They came barreling out of the tunnels as if hell hounds were nipping at their heels. All of them ran up the pathway leading out of the dark depths, not one of them looking back to see if the dark man pursued them. Within the first few blocks they did as Ryan had suggested: They split up. Some of them ran down an alley. Some ran for a another well-Iit street. Graff, Reason and Glass ran for a side street that would take them back in the direction they had come from. It wasn’t long into their run that Graff cut off, saying he was heading for home. He’d had enough excitement for the night. Reason readily agreed that home was a good idea.
The door to home had never looked so good. Reason ran across the street. Even with home in sight, Reason booked on. He didn’t intend to slow down until he hit the front steps of the porch. Mike Glass followed behind him. “What’s the matter, Nelson? The dark man was left far behind. The crazy maniacs from that party are more than likely telling their story to the cops.” He laughed faintly. “Too busy to be chasing us and shooting at us. We should be safe for what’s left of this night. So, lighten up.”
“Sorry,” offered Reason, more hastily than he meant to. He was still looking in all directions, as if he expected the dark specter to materialize. He gave Mike Glass a feigned smile. “Sorry, Glass, I’m just in a hurry, that’s all. Got to be in by a certain time.”
Mike snickered. “Still on probation, huh? Yeah, I know what that’s like. Flying home at the last minute, praying to God that your old lady didn’t call your probation officer like she threatens to do every time. I know, that’s a drag.”
“Naw,” Reason told him. “Not on probation anymore. Not for a year. Just have to be home so my brother don’t worry and don’t yell at me.” He glanced cautiously up and down the street, and backed his way to the front steps. “Sorry, Glass. I gotta be getting inside.”
Reason was finished making smalltalk. He was still shaking from his encounter with the dark specter, from his run-in with the wild bunch of kids out for vengeance. He just wanted to get inside, out of the night. But as he moved up the steps, Mike, who seemed to be in no hurry to move on, asked him, “No probation, huh? What about treatment? You still in the drug treatment program? You still going to those nightly sessions?”
Reason stopped when he reached the porch. “Yeah. I still go to Haven. And you?”
Haven, a community drug and alcohol program, was where Reason had met Mike Glass. He remembered him as the mouthy kid who never quit hassling the counselors. Nuke didn’t want to be there, and, with great pains, he let everyone know it. It was either six months of Haven or six months to a year at the Youth Development Center. And no one wanted to go there. Glass had taken his option: Haven. But, he had never quite accepted the program. And Reason had never quite accepted Mike Glass. The rebel in Glass was too attractive yet to Reason, and he didn’t want to be lured back into his old lifestyle. Right after their first meeting at Haven, Reason recognized Mike Glass as the kid Reason used to be. Now Reason wanted to stay clear of anyone with that sort of attitude or behavior. “I quit,” Mike proudly stated.
“Drugs?” asked Reason.
Mike’s laugh was brittle. “Ha! No, I didn’t quit drugs! I quit the program. Hell, I’ll never quit drugs. Not until I die.” He laughed again.
Mike Glass brushed his flop out of his eyes with his hand. “Don’t tell me you’re straight.”
Reason nodded in satisfaction. He wasn’t embarrassed, not any more. Quite the contrary, he was proud of hanging in there for so long. Not wanting to let Mike know he was intimidating him, Reason said, “Been straight for a whole year. No dope. No booze. Not even an aspirin.”
They both laughed. But Mike laughed even longer. “Hell, you’ll be back. You might stay cool for another couple months, but it’ll happen. Someone, somewhere, at the right time will pass you a Bud or a little reefer. And you’ll blow a whole year’s sobriety in three seconds.”
Above Mike’s snickering, Reason firmly said, “l seriously doubt it.” Now more than ever he wanted to retreat inside the house. Reason was tired of listening to hopeless talk like that. The kid was a loser. Mike Glass was like a lot of others Reason had seen in the program: on his way to nowhere. “I got to be going,” he told the kid.
As he reached for the door, Glass sarcastically said, “Bugs you to hear that kind of talk, huh?”
“No,” Reason stated flatly.
Glass laughed skeptically. “Don’t you want to know what I’m doing in your part of town? Havelock not my neighborhood, you know?”
Reason stared silently at him.
“Big party down the street,” Glass stated, reaching deep inside his khaki fatigue pockets. “Good thing not everyone has an attitude like yours about that little green plant or that white powder. If all the freaks went straight, I’d be out of business.”
He held up a very thick wad of bills and laughed as Reason sadly shook his head. “I feel sorry for you,” was all Reason managed to say, and then he slipped inside the house and out of the night.
Mike Glass stuffed the bills into his pocket. He snickered again, spit in disgust at Reason’s porch steps, and walked away shaking his head. He drifted toward Havelock Park, a small tree-lined park located in the center of the suburb. He was hoping to bum a ride back home. His mind was preoccupied with hazy thoughts. He didn’t see the tall, dark figure following him from Reason’s house.
The man glided out of the shadows as if he were somehow a part of them. From around the stone shelter at the center of the park he came. He moved directly in front of Mike Glass.
“What the hell!” Glass nearly shouted. The sudden appearance jolted him awake. Mike Glass let out a sigh, like someone who’s been startled and then regained his composure because he thought everything was all right.
But, in this case, everything was not all right.
“Good God!” Mike exclaimed as he noticed the pistol in the dark figure’s hand. “What the hell’s that for?”
The tall man spoke in a raspy voice. “This? This is for you.”
The man poked the tip of the pistol silencer into the center of Mike’s chest. “Child of Sin, you have 60 seconds to make peace with your Maker. Sixty seconds to denounce the Dark Master you have been serving. Accept Jesus. Deny Lucifer. Your time begins … now.”
Mike Glass tried to back away, to brush the gun away from his chest. He found himself up against the shelter wall with no room to move. He tried sounding brave. “Come on, knock it off. This ain’t really funny.”
“You are wasting time,” the man told him. “I, the Reaper, allow you time to confess your sins.”
“What the hell do you want from me?” cried Glass, his voice cracking.
“I,” answered the man, “want nothing. Lucifer, the Fallen, craves your soul. Jesus, the Son, wishes to save it. I am the Reaper. My task is only to free it.”
Mike Glass, tears streaming down his face, eyed the gun with blurred vision. “My-my soul?”
The dark-haired man pulled back the hammer on the .22 revolver. “You have broken the First Commandment. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not bow down to them or serve them. You have transgressed this law.”
“Gods-gods?” Mike whimpered. “Wha-wha-what gods?”
The man snarled, “The gods of False Dreams. Marijuana, the Queen. Cocaine, the King. LSD and Speed, the two Princes. These gods you have partaken of and worshiped. And…you have served as an instrument … so that others n-might worship these gods of False Dreams, as well.”
Mike Glass slowly began to comprehend what the man was talking about. He reached into his pocket, pulling out the wad of money he had made from sales. “My dealing?” he cried. “Is that what you mean? Here, take it. I won’t worship false gods ever again! Just take the money.”
The man declared, “Your time is up. Time to pass from this realm. Your soul goes now to one place or .. another.”
The pistol spit fire and puffed smoke.
Mike Glass stiffened, jerked back and hit the stone wall of the shelter behind him.
Poof, poof, poof!
The man moved the pistol in a tight pattern as he fired three more shots.
The kid twisted, turned, and jerked back again. Then he fen silently forward.
The soul of Mike Glass was riding the winds before his body hit the ground.
Thou Shalt Not
Reason lay just on the edge of consciousness. He thought he heard a voice, but wrapped in his pillows and blankets, he turned over trying to ignore it.
“…accident or something down at the park…cop cars … Shep and Boone … better get down there…see what’s going on.”
Reason snuggled deeper under the covers.
And then … the sheet and blanket were suddenly no longer within his grasp.
“How was treatment last night?” He now heard the words clearly. “Hey, Reason? You okay?”
Slowly opening his eyes, Reason focused on the concerned face of Collin Young. His best friend was leaning over his bed, hands resting on bent knees, long blond hair falling into a face that was no more than six inches from his own.
“What’s going on?” Collin queried in a stem voice. “How come you’re so out of it? You been using?”
Reason reached up, surprising Collin, and placed him in a headlock. He pulled him onto the bed, wrestling his way out from under him. Leaving Collin with his white-blond hair in a ruffled mess, he snatched his jeans from the floor. “No, Collin,” he said, “I havent been using. Up late watching a flick on the tube. Waiting up for Boone. I wasn’t wasted.”
A worried look faded from Coffie’s face. He was Reason’s “partner in sobriety,” the one who gave Reason support and did his best to keep him straight. If Reason failed in his struggle to win the battle over drugs or alcohol, Collin felt responsible. Dedicated, faithful, and loyal-always there when needed. He was the best friend Reason had.
“Quit worrying,” laughed Reason, pulling on his faded jeans and slipping into a flannel shirt. “I came straight home from Haven, last night. Even ran into Mike Glass. But I made it once again. Home free.”
Sitting up on the bed, Collin straightened his shoulder-length hair with his fingers. “Glass? Ain’t that the kid that’s been selling to Alan?”
Reason ran a brush through his own hair. “Selling to Alan and probably every other juvenile toker in Havelock.”
Collin stood beside Reason in front of the dresser mirror. “Small-time dealer, huh?”
Reason smiled approvingly. The reflection in the mirror was one he liked. Brushing his hair over his shoulders, he answered Collin. “Big-time dealer, more like. Should have seen the wad of bills Glass had. Said he’d been selling at some party. Must have done real well, supplied a lot of users.”
Collin frowned. “Another contribution to brain-dead kids.”
“Really,” agreed Reason.
Passing through the living room on the way to the kitchen, the two attracted the attention of Reason’s German shepherd, Bummer. The dog was smart enough to know where the food was. Instantly awake from his snooze on the couch, he sprang to the floor. He followed the boys into the kitchen with one of those looks that dogs have perfected throughout generations, a look that said, “Gee, breakfast would be nice!”
Slamming a Poptart and feeding Bummer half a cold one, Reason asked Collin, “What were you saying about some accident at the park?”
Collin opened the fridge, poured himself some orange juice. “Yeah. Something going down. Boone and Shepherd are there, along with half the police force. Wanna see what’s happening?”
Reason impatiently flicked the half-warmed Poptart out of the toaster. “Sure. Maybe Boone and Shep are working on another bust.”
“At the park? In broad daylight?” Collin asked.
Reason shrugged. “It’s worth a see.”
Collin and Bummer, headed for the front door. Reason snarfed the Poptart, washed it down with the remainder of Collin’s orange juice, and searched the living room for his tennis shoes. He found them under one end of the sofa. As he slipped them on, his gaze drifted to the closed bedroom door directly before him. It suddenly became very quiet.
“You miss her a lot, don’t you?” Collin softly asked.
Reason pulled fiercely on his shoelaces and drew a knot. Then as though exhausted, he stared at the closed door. “Sometimes … sometimes I think she’s still there. But, that door never opens. Boone-we never touch it. It’s like if we do, we’ll disturb her.”
Reason’s mother, Rose Nelson, had passed away six months earlier. It seemed Reason had a change of heart at the right time. All those years, he had been a troubled kid on the streets and at school, causing his mom constant heartbreak. Yet it had all come rolling to a stop nearly a year ago. Six months later the doctors diagnosed Rose’s cancer. Soon after, she was admitted to the hospital. In a few months she closed her eyes to this world for the last time. And, in those last months Reason had shown her just how good he could be. He stopped partying. He quit raising hefl. No problems in school. No trouble with the law. No more probation. Not a single truancy. Reason had finally gotten his act together.
He made Rose proud. He had given her a gift in those last six months. Her wayward son, the prodigal, had at last come home. Lost lamb of the family no more, Reason Nelson came to his senses, and no longer struggled against the current of reality.
At Havelock Park, Reason nearly collided with a uniformed officer as he and Collin stepped out of the alley. The cop did a quick shuffle. Reason swiftly sidestepped. Bummer, suspecting that the big man in blue meant harm to his miaster, growled a warning and bared his teeth. Collin was quick to grab the aggravated shepherd by the collar. Reason, seeing Bummer’s intent to attack, commanded, “No Bummer! Chill out, meathead! No one’s after me.” He, too, grabbed the dog’s collar. Smiling apologetically at the officer, he gave Bummer a reassuring pat on the head.
“Hold on, kids!” the officer demanded as he warily eyed Bummer. Don’t go beyond this sidewalk. Investigation being conducted over in the park. I suggest you walk your dog elsewhere. Best put a leash on him, too. Maybe even a muzzle!”
Studying the gathering of policemen, Reason and Collin moved toward the street. “Suppose Boone and Shep are near the shelter?” asked Collin.
“I don’t see them.” Reason craned his neck and stood m tip-toes to get a better view.
“There,” said Collin, “beneath the trees. Boone’s standing by himself. I don’t see Shep.”
“Good,” replied Reason. “Maybe he’ll tell us what’s happening.”
The two boys cautiously crossed back to the sidewalk. No one seemed to notice them and the dog as they casually sauntered into the park-, a little to the left of the stone shelter and the police activity, and a little to the right of a row of massive pine trees. They approached Reason’s older brother, Boone, very quietly. They weren’t sure whether he would welcome them gladly or scold them back to the street.
Standing in his flannel shirt, faded blue jeans, and scuffed hiking boots, Boone was absorbed in thought. His dark hair was long and parted down the center, and curled about his shoulders. He now sported a slight beard, as well. In Reason’s estimation, Boone had changed a lot over the past year. It was not just the beard and the longer hair. The death of Rose had made him more thoughtful. The admiration and support Boone offered Reason in return for his commitment to stay drug-free had brought them closer. After playing the heavy for all the years of Reason’s troubled childhood, Boone was grateful he could at last lighten up on his delinquent little brother. It made life easier for both of them.
Sneaking up to a tree, as yet unnoticed, Reason and Collin came within six feet of Boone. His back towards them, Boone studied a slip of paper sealed within a plastic bag – an evidence bag used by the police to prevent fingerprints from being marred or carelessly wiped off.
Suddenly, Reason and Collin froze. Out of the crowd of officers near the stone shelter, a huge black man strode toward Boone. His clothes made it obvious he was a detective. Blue slacks, a blue sports shirt, and a short-cropped Afro haircut contrasted with a loosely knotted tie. His hair glistened in the sunlight, and a sweaty sheen shone on his forehead. His white teeth flashed within his carefully trimmed beard as he approached Boone.
The boys hugged the tree, hoping to disappear into it. “Yo, bro! You done contemplatin’ that note we found on the boy?”
Startled, Boone glanced up. “Can’t make no sense of it, Shep. No idea what it means.”
Shep fixed Boone in his gaze. “Tell me what it says.”
Boone held up the plastic bag and read aloud. “Thou shalt not have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not partake of the harlot’s sorreries. Thou shalt not sow seeds of discord. – – The Reaper.”
A look of consternation on his dark face, Shep took the evidence bag from Boone and reread the note. “This is all pretty strange, brother. Four shots to the upper body, like the four points of a cross. A silver crucifix laid directly on the victim’s forehead. And this paper stuffed in his shirt pocket with these Bible verses on it. Strange. Very strange.”
“Was the shooting drug-related?”
Shep shook his head. “Don’t know. Maybe. Wasn’t no robbery, though.”
“Oh. What do you mean?” asked Boone.
Shep gestured to another officer near the shelter. The man was placing another evidence bag in a brief case. “That bag holds the victim’s money. Nearly 700 dollars. Whoever shot him, didn’t even bother to filch his wad of bills.”
Watching the investigators go about their work, Boone questioned, “Any drugs found on the kid?”
“No. Nothing but the money in his wallet,” answered Shep.
“Any I.D.?” queried Boone.
Shep snapped his fingers. “Yeah. They were bagging that a moment ago. I’ll go see if we can handle it yet.”
As the black detective returned among the investigators, Reason and Collin peeked around the tree to see ff they could catch a glimpse of the victim. A photographer snapped pictures. A paramedic unzipped a huge green bag. Another officer chalk marked the position of the body. And then, as if on cue, a short, stocky officer moved away from the upper portion of the victim, and Reason nearly fainted! He saw the kid’s flop hair-style, the half-shaved head, the peace-symbol earring, and, finally, the kid’s blood-soaked army jacket. Reason gasped out loud and leaned on the tree for support.
Collin, hoping he didn’t attract Boone’s attention, whispered, “You all right? What’s the matter?”
Shaking his head woodenly, Reason buried his face in the bark.
Collin steered Reason behind the tree as Shep returned carrying another bag in his hand. Collin peered around one side. Reason peeked around the other as Boone and the detective continued their conversation. “Student I.D. in here, somewhere,” muttered Shep as he fumbled around, trying to open the wallet through the plastic of the evidence bag.
Reason saw movement out of the comer of his eye. It was Bummer, who had been urinating on every tree he could find. The dog padded past Reason, heading for Boone.
“No!” whispered Reason. “Dumb dog, get back here!” But it was already too late. Bummer lifted his leg and marking the tree nearest Boone, and then greeted his master’s brother most enthusiastically.
Ducking back behind the tree, Reason and Collin collided with each other, roughly bumping heads. “Danm!” whispered Reason.
“Ouch!” groaned Collin.
Shep had just managed to flip the wallet open within the bag when Boone turned toward the tree where Bummer was happily wagging his tail and playfully dodging a leg and foot that appeared to be kicking at him.
“Get, Bummer! Go away, meathead! Go on, move it, dog!” Reason said quietly, earnestly.
As Boone clamped onto Reason’s leg, Shep called, “Boone? You paying attention to what I’m saying? I just found the kid’s I.D. You wanna give me the time of day, or you wannd keep playin’ with the mutt?”
Boone yanked Reason out from behind the tree. “Reason! What the hell are you doing here?”
Shep looked up from the plastic bag. “Where’d he come from?”
None too gently, Boone forced Reason against the tree, and latched onto Collin. “This is serious business!” he ranted. “Police business! You’ve got no right sneakin’ around listening to what’s being discussed. Understand?”
Passively submitting to Boone’s firm grip, Collin sheepishly replied, “Yes. And I’m sorry…”
But before Collin could finish an apology, Reason took Boone’s left hand in both of his and forced it away from his chest. “The kid’s name is Mike Glass.”
This seemed to place Boone at a loss, something Reason had hoped for. Only he hadn’t expected Shep to react the way he did. The big, black detective crossed in front of Boone, breaking his hold on both boys. “What did you say, kid? You know something about this? Speak up, boy! You’ve got ten seconds!”
Despite the black detective’s harshly spoken words, Reason calmly said, “Lighten up, Shep. I was just telling you who’s laying dead over there.” He eyed the detective coolly and quietly suggested, “Go ahead. Read the I.D. in the wallet. But, I can tell you right now, that’s Mike Glass.” Detective Shepherd eyed Reason a moment longer before glancing down to the wallet in the bag. Slowly, he looked up, eyeing Reason curiously. He exchanged looks with Boone.
“Is he right?” asked Boone. “Is that the kid’s name?”
Still staring down at Reason, as if trying to see inside his head, Shep nodded. “Yep.” Then to Reason he said, “Better be straight with me, kid! Is he a friend of yours?”
“Was,” replied Reason, now feeling a bit uneasy under the detective’s studious glare.
Shep snapped his fingers, causing Reason to jump. “Don’t get mouthy! Is or was! Whatever it might be, tell me about him.”
Boone interceded on Reason’s behalf. “Shep. Come on, now! You don’t think Reason was involved do you?”
Shep remained silent as he studied Reason.
Trying not to feel too much like an animal backed into a tree, Reason pushed himself upright. “He was sort of a friend. Met him at drug treatment. I saw him…I saw him last night. It was about ten o’clock. The money on him more than likely came from potheads-.”
“Potheads?” snapped Detective Shepherd.
“He was a dealer,” answered Reason. He heard himself say “was” for the second time. It began to dawn on him that he was talking about someone no longer living and who would no longer be around. He felt sad and sick at the same time. “Uh,” he murmured quietly and not as calmly as before, “could I go, now? That’s all … I know .. about him. I swear, Shep. Swear to God.”
Shep started to say, “Wait just a minute-.” when Boone cut him off. “Shep, lighten up. Leave the kid alone. He’s lookin’ a little pale.” To Reason he said, “Go on home, kid. We’ll talk later.”
Stunned by the death of Mike Glass, Reason followed Collin and Bummer out of the park, wondering if the kid was now in heaven or hell.