Pima County Sheriff’s Department, Green Valley, 1992.
“Officer Holmes.” The stern voice carried across the large, grey room, and the young officer looked up from his desk.
“Lieutenant Falconer,” he said, addressing the older man as he strode towards him. “Something I can help you with?”
“When your superior asks you something I expect you to answer, not just ignore the question.”
“Yes sir,” Holmes said.
“So,” Falconer continued, “are you coming for dinner or not?”
Holmes grinned. “Only if you promise you aren’t going to set me up with another one of your wife’s colleagues.”
Falconer looked a little crestfallen as Holmes easily foresaw his plans. “Grace is a nice girl, Holmes, I think you’d like her.” Holmes’s expression was answer enough. “In fact, so was Harriet, Lisa, and Megan. You remember Megan? That pretty redhead? I don’t know what’s wrong with you. You’re 26 years old, you should be thinking of settling down.” Holmes just laughed and shook his head.
“No offence, but your wife is 37. It’s safe to say her friends are not my type.”
“You’re too picky,” he said, running his hand through his thinning hair. “That’s your problem, too darn picky.”
A young man caught Holmes’s eye as he looked over his Lieutenant’s shoulder. “Who’s that?” he asked, nodding in the direction of the front desk.
“Some kid looking for a job… Watts I think he said his name was.”
“What did you tell him?” Holmes asked, surveying the man carefully. He was probably a few years his junior, but his clean-shaven face and light brown hair made him look even younger.
“No vacancies,” he said. “Shame though, he looks like a promising cop. Maybe in a year or two.”
“Shame,” Holmes agreed, taking one last look at the young officer before returning his gaze to Falconer. “Does the dinner offer still stand? Minus the blind date?”
“Yeah, sure,” Falconer said. “I hate to think of you sitting alone in that little house all the time.”
“It’s just how I like it. Quiet.”
“Well, I’m just looking out for you, kid,” Lieutenant Falconer said.
“I know,” said Holmes. “I’ll be there.”
“Seven o’clock,” said Falconer. “And bring a bottle of wine.”
“Yessir.” Holmes went back to his work, writing up reports for a spate of robberies in the area, typing slowly on his large, beige-coloured computer that occupied the majority of the desk. It was tedious work and he often wondered what had been wrong with the old system of pen and paper. He kept letting his mind and eyes wander around the bullpen, looking at his colleagues. There were a few other officers around his age, but the majority were a lot older. Holmes didn’t know any of them particularly well, nor did he have any inclination to. Lieutenant Falconer was probably his only friend in the department, and even that was only due to his sheer persistence, refusing to let Holmes indulge in his solitary ways, and pressing him to socialise with him until, quite without his consent, they had become good friends.
Another unknown face caught Holmes’s eye as a little boy entered the office. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, if that. He was small and weedy, and he was staring around nervously with eyes that looked far too big for his head. Whether it was from sadness or nervousness, there were tears on his sun-reddened cheeks. He looked on the verge of turning tail and running from the building when he saw Holmes watching him, but when Holmes beckoned him over, he did as he was instructed.
“Sit down,” Holmes said, as kindly as his monophonic voice would allow. The boy obeyed, his short legs dangling in the air, and all the while he stared around as though he expected someone to be chasing him. “Who are you here with?”
“No one,” he said, so quietly it was almost a whisper, wiping a tear from his cheek with the back of his hand, which was still chubby with childhood.
“Okay, why are you here?”
The boy was about to reply when Lieutenant Falconer appeared beside him.
“Bobby? What are you doing here?” The boy seemed relieved to see the Lieutenant, his terrified expression softening slightly.
“You know each other?” Holmes asked.
“Yeah,” Falconer said. “C’mon, let’s go and talk in here.” He guided the kid away from Holmes’s desk a little too quickly, leading him in to his office and leaving Holmes’s both perplexed and a little suspicious. He grabbed a stack of papers and hurried to the filing cabinet near the office door, hoping to overhear a little of the conversation.
“Why aren’t you with your dad?” Falconer asked.
“I wanted to talk to a policeman,” Bobby said, his voice almost inaudible.
“My daddy is being mean to me.” This piqued Holmes’s interest, but Falconer brushed the comment aside.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Bobby. All kids think their parents are mean."
“But he’s being really mean,” Bobby said, his voice rising insistently. “He hurt my arm this morning.” Holmes craned his neck, and manage to catch a glimpse of the boy through a narrow gap in the window blinds. He had pushed up the sleeve of his green shirt to show a reddish purple bruise just above his elbow, and although Holmes only managed a brief glance, he could have sworn there was another yellowing bruise under his shirt collar.
“Bobby, I’ve been friends with your dad for nearly thirty years. He’s a good man, and a good father to you, you shouldn’t go around saying things like that. You could get him in to a lot of trouble.”
“He doesn’t make me dinner anymore,” he said, unperturbed by Falconer’s warnings. “He just sleeps all the time.” But his voice had fallen quiet again, and Holmes shifted closer to the door, making a convincing show of re-organising his folders on top of the cabinet as an excuse.
“Look, Bobby. I know things must have been hard since your mom died, but you have to help out your dad. He’s having a tough time, and you need to be a good boy for him.”
“Okay,” he said at last.
“I’m going to drive you home, okay? And I don’t want you wandering out of the house again. Clear?”
Holmes crossed quickly back to his desk to see Lieutenant Falconer and Bobby emerge from the office and head towards the front door. He wanted to go after them, insist that Falconer paid more attention to the boy’s claims but before he could bring himself to act, they were gone.
Detective Lindsay sat opposite him at a grey desk, cluttered with pictures of his family and pets, and he watched Holmes staring at the door.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“You know where that kid lives?” Holmes asked, ignoring the detective’s question.
“Sure,” the detective said, scrawling the address down on a piece of paper and handing it to him. “Why?”
“Just want to follow something up,” Holmes muttered.
An hour later, Holmes’s shift ended, he grabbed his jacket and practically ran from the office, climbing in to his battered Ford Escort and setting off towards the address that Detective Lindsay had given him. Within five minutes he was parked outside Bobby’s house, which looked just like all the others on the street, all pale coloured bungalows with low, sloping roofs, their front yards covered with gravel and outlined with smooth rocks to disguise the brown, dusty earth beneath. The only thing that set Bobby’s house apart from the rest was the brittle bushes that had begun to grow uncontrolled across the front yard.
Holmes crossed the street quickly, anxious to see the boy again and hoping that it would put his mind at ease about what he thought he had seen earlier. He was probably just jumping to conclusions, getting over-excited and reading in to things. Just as he set foot on to the property, the door opened and Lieutenant Falconer emerged.
“Don’t worry about it,” he called to whoever was in the house. “Consider it done. Look after yourself, you hear?” He turned from the door and immediately caught sight of Holmes, standing frozen on the gravel path.
“What are you doing here, Holmes?” Falconer asked, looking uncertain.
“I wanted to check on the kid. When he spoke to me back at the office I just… I felt like something wasn’t right.”
“It’s all dealt with,” he said, simply, waving a careless hand. “I know the family, it’s fine.” Holmes frowned at the front door, chewing his bottom lip. “Holmes,” Falconer said, clapping him on the shoulder, “lighten up. The kid’s fine.” At last Holmes met his friend's eyes and found his worry dissipating slightly. “Come on, you’d better not be late for my wife’s dinner or she’ll have your head.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Holmes said before following the older man back along the garden path. He got in to his own car and watched Falconer drive off, put his hand on his keys in the ignition, but didn’t move again after that. He sat watching the still house, the little boy’s frightened face weighing on his mind.
Before he knew what he was doing he had climbed back out of his car. One second he was crossing the street, then he was walking across the gravel, and suddenly he was knocking on the front door with no idea about what he was going to say. The door swung open and a large man stood there, leaning on the door handle. His grey shirt was stained and there were dark rings beneath his dull blue eyes.
“What do you want?”
“I’m Officer Holmes - ” he started.
“Get off my property,” he said flatly. Holmes caught the strong scent of of whiskey on the man’s heavy breath.
“I just wanted to ask - ”
“I said get off my property,” he repeated, straightening up and revealing himself to be several inches taller than Holmes had previously imagined. “You have no business here. If this is about what happened earlier, the kid was just messing around when he came down to the station. Weren’t you?” He barked the question over his shoulder and Holmes peered around the man to see the boy standing in the hall, eyes wider than ever, wringing his small hands. He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. He took a frightened look at his father’s questioning stare and nodded fervently. “There,” the man said. “Now. Get. Off. My. Property.” Holmes didn’t know what else to do, so he did as he was commanded and turned away from the boy, got back in to his car and drove off.
That night he spent a pleasant few hours in the company of Lieutenant Falconer and his wife, but every so often throughout the meal, Holmes would find himself staring at Falconer, wondering how his Lieutenant could have ignored such obvious signs that the little boy was in trouble. Then again, he thought, Falconer knew the family personally, and had almost 15 years’ more experience as a cop than he did. He should have faith in the Lieutenant’s judgement.
They finished their meal, but remained at the table, drinking a bottle of scotch while the Lieutenant regaled Mrs Falconer with stories of his younger days that she had no doubt heard a dozen times before. Several times that evening the telephone rang, and Lieutenant Falconer jumped up to answer it. Each time he returned to the table and Holmes enquired about the call, Falconer would brush off his question with a vague mentions of “work stuff”, insisting that it was “nothing to worry about”. When the Lieutenant resumed his seat at the table for a third time and gave him the same dismissive answers, Holmes realised that he didn’t trust his only friend.
The next day he strode in to the Sheriff’s Office with determination, and knocked firmly on the Commander’s door. The image of the little boy cowering in his father’s gaze was more than enough to eliminate any nervousness that he might have been feeling at the prospect of addressing the Commander.
“Come,” came a deep voice from inside the room.
“Sir,” Holmes greeted as he stood in front of Commander Anderson’s large desk. He was a clean shaven man, with a square jaw and the kind of thick black eyebrows that made him look constantly angry, but Holmes couldn’t see any of his face at that moment because he didn’t even look up at the young officer. Taking a deep breath, Holmes started speaking anyway, addressing the greying crown of the Commander’s head. “Sir, I have serious concerns about a boy that came in to see us yesterday. I went to his house and - ”
“I already know what you did, Officer,” Commander Anderson said, looking up from his desk at last to fix Holmes with an icy blue stare. “You harassed a man for no reason, immediately after a superior officer had told you that he had handled the situation.”
“The kid has bruises on - ” The Commander interrupted him brusquely.
“Quiet. I don’t want to hear another word about this nonsense. You’ve been here less than a year, Officer Holmes, so I’m going to chalk this up to inexperience. But there is a hierarchy here, and it is made to be respected. If I ever hear of you going over your superior’s head again, there will be serious consequences. Am I clear?”
Holmes walked from the room with as much dignity as he could muster in the wake of his humiliating lecture, wondering how the Commander had known about his visit to Bobby’s father’s house the night before. As he emerged in to the bullpen, he looked across to see Lieutenant Falconer watching him, but as soon as their eyes met, the Lieutenant dropped his gaze and retreated in to his office without a word.