SOME RIDDEN FATE: A CHARLIE BYRNE STORY - KIERAN SHEA
“There’s nothing else we can do.”
I stared at Officer C. Kelly Wagner. He was a flattop pup, earnest, maybe three notches past training wheels. Nice enough but the boredom and jade hadn’t found him yet, like so many of the township boys in blue.
Wagner shifted. “Like it or not, there are harassment issues with offenders like Darryl Guzman. Best is that he’s registered under Megan’s Law. We pick him up we can mention what you told us, maybe let you know. Boy, if we had a dollar for every time some soccer mom looked at the online databases—”
“He was trolling for kids.”
“But he didn’t actually do anything.”
“Yes, sir, that might be, but you know how that plays. Speculation. He grabs some lawyer cries harrassment and sues for defamation. He’s been playing by the rules for a while now.” A scratch at his flattop. “By the way, how exactly did you come by this information?”
“That he lives up here.”
“Really. Research? Pretty handy with a computer are we, Mr. Byrne?”
“I found it in a fortune cookie.”
“I see. Let me ask you. This Chinese research of yours, did you share this with the police down in Ocean City?”
“Sure. They said they’d let you know.”
“Must’ve slipped their minds.”
“Summer’s the busy season. Look, I’m not trying to cause any trouble.”
“We’re past trouble. A concerned citizen is one thing. It’s admirable. But if you’re planning a vendetta or something like that, that’s another thing entirely.”
I stood. “No, just a concerned citizen.”
“Well, then...” Officer Wagner stood, “We appreciate you coming in.”
I’d been loping back from kayaking off of 7th street, digging deep in a late August spell of the dreaded “Lake Atlantic” effect. Not a bump of swell in sight. High pressure scrubbed the dirty humidity from the sky and allowed me to work on my paddling speed. Evening beers were beginning to show.
Workout finished, I shouldered my kayak, crossed the beach to the boardwalk and made my way through the morning tourist waddle. Way too many Phillies hats for my taste but that’s life on South Jersey Shore. I was halfway down the second block when I heard the crying.
Between a set of rental duplexes a fenced alley separated the backyards. Framed in the alley’s gap, a boy straddled a BMX bike. All of seven and falling apart. I set my kayak down on the sidewalk.
“Hey, kid? You OK?”
His teary eyes flashed on me.
I moved slow, trying to avoid alarm. I’ll admit it, I was a bit hesitant to saunter between the houses, you know, strange guy walking through your rented privacy when you saved hard for a place at the beach. As a landlord myself, I had zero tolerance for trespassing, but the kid was a mess. I kept my palms open, approached the alley’s gap.
“You lost or something?”
Barely eight-thirty and the sun was already baking the concrete. The boy stamped a sneaker on a pedal, readying himself to bolt.
Then I was in the alley and saw the guy. He was nearing the back of an idling, white cargo van. Bald-head, white painter pants, gray t-shirt. Chubby, maybe six four. I look at the boy then back at the guy lumbering away. Did the math.
No. Christ. No.
“Hey! Hey, you!”
Chubby hurried his last few steps and yanked open the driver side door.
He punched it. I sprinted hard and snagged the plate before the van stomped around the next corner and screamed north.
Instinctively, I reached for where I usually clipped my cell. Yeah. Went for a morning paddle, no cell phone on your surf trunks, genius. I ran back to the kid. “Hey? That guy in the white van? Did he do or say anything to you?”
Words pouring out. “He didn’t do nothin’, mister, b-but he—he—then you asked from over there if I was OK and stuff. I don’t know where I live! My sister, she was with me and we were riding around and she took off and left me and we just got down here yesterday and I don’t know where we’re staying! My mom is going to kill me!”
I glanced back down the alley. A sliding screen door off the second story of one of the duplexes nearby tracked open and a woman stepped out to retrieve a beach towel pinned to a line. I shouted at her and told her to call the cops—lost child. Do it now.
The boy faltered and fell over to the ground, shaking. I edged closer.
“Hey, nobody’s killing anyone, little man.”
Darryl Guzman lived in a leased trailer on a dismal wedge of land behind a Wawa convenience store up in the scruffy, rural fringes of southern Ocean County. I gave my visit with Officer Wagner some simmer down on the clock, then carved out some time in October. Drove up on a Tuesday. A week before Halloween.
I picked up a Sponge Bob Squarepants mask and waited until it was late to slide it over my face. Guzman’s came to the door wearing a Papa John’s Pizza uniform. He’d been home from his shift for hours.
Papa John’s in New Jersey. High sin of Midwestern cardboard cuisine.
Chewing a grape jelly sandwich, Guzman stood loose but defensive in the doorway. Must’ve learned that stance from his time inside. A smell of mildewed carpet, cologne, and fried living was strong even under my mask. His eyes changed and I’d seen that flat-eye look before. Pit bulls, the last three seconds before they lunged for your throat.
No secret that the key to kicking ass is hitting first and ugly. I decided a blockish six volt battery from a neighbor’s recycling bin and a pair of doubled-up socks from the secondhand store were good for a little David and Goliath. I whipped the battery-laden socks from behind underhand and tagged Guzman’s square in the nuts. The blow knocked him back inside.
Guzman crashed to the floor and floundered, fleshy hands between his legs.
“Help! Jesus! Help me! Don’t hurt me!”
I kicked the flimsy door shut with my foot. Hit him again, this time downward from a high arc that landed on his protecting knuckles. Something sounded like it might’ve broke and there was blood. I didn’t care.
“Ow! I know my rights! Owww! Leave me alone, I know my goddamn rights!”
“Rights...” I stepped around him, “I’m not a cop, Darryl.”
He curled into a ball, gasping as I passed. “Who are you?”
“Darryl. You don’t know me. But I know you.”
A laptop was hot on a crooked kitchen table surrounded by mail and various papers and a paper casket of chicken wing bones. I took a flash drive from my pocket and stabbed it in the laptop’s data port. Started shifting files.
“Don’t hurt me.”
“Stay down then.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Golly. With swanky digs like this? Color me shocked.”
“What do you want?”
“Well, for starters, I want you to break your lease, move the fuck out of state, Darryl.”
“What? Move? Move out of state? Wha—why? I can’t move out of state. I can’t move, I’m on supervised release. I have to check in, I have to—”
“This is me caring.”
“What do you want!?”
“I want you to start running and keep running. There are quite a few bridges leading into and out of New Jersey. I want you to think long and hard about the merits of picking a nice high one. Let’s see. The Delaware Memorial’s pretty good.”
“The Delaware Memorial?”
“Tappan Zee, if you have the balls.”
“What’re you doing with my computer?”
“What do you think?”
The panic in his eyes washed dark then. He lurched for my legs with one of his damaged hands and I jumped back against the counter as he missed and spilled forward. I knocked him in the ear with the battery and he screamed, grinding his sobbing face into the sticky carpet. Using the touch pad on the lap top, I swiveled the mouse arrow over the start key and found the recent documents. A long line of jpegs. Names like Sweetest Kiss, Making Cake, Camping Fun, Billy and John, Billy and John II, Hot Mouth Altar Boy...
I swung the battery down on his spine to clear my head. Another scream.
“I should just set you on fucking fire and be done with it.”
“You know, my Dad used to tell me what I could and couldn’t do, and that always bothered me. It really did. Let me be clear. You have until the first. Gone from the state and if you are not I’m taking this flash drive and giving it to some people who are far more brutal and merciless than me. One in particular cut his teeth on the whole torture thing over in Ramadi and that crazy Al-Anbar hornets nest in Iraq. These guys can’t bear your kind and they owe me big. This may make life difficult for you and yeah, you’ll probably end up back inside for violating whatever weak-ass state obligations you’ve been graced with, so don’t fuck up. Keep running and stay clean. Get caught or if I find out you’ve been bad in any sliver of a way, and I swear on my grandmother’s grave, I’m giving it to those brutal and merciless fucks anyway. Believe me when I say they know everyone and will find you. I’ll help them find you.”
“Of course, there’s always the bridge.”
BIO: If they handed out gold medals for being an ass clown, Kieran Shea would be Flavor Flav-ing the bling like Michael Phelps sans the bong. His character--South Jersey ne’er-do-well investigator Charlie Byrne has been here at A Twist of Noir before. Kieran blogs whatever leaks from his brain at Black Irish Blarney.