Chapter 15 Half a person
On the drive home the ‘kid’ was relatively quiet, just staring out the window. Something in him seemed lighter; the weight was gone. Porter followed the highway back towards Selma and into Valhalla. As they reached the house Cisco started to talk again.
“So you’re a detective?”
“Most of the time”.
“How do you get that work?”
“I got my license in a cereal box.”
Cisco smiled and said, “Cereal stopped giving away prizes long ago, I think.” He went back to staring out the window.
There was some activity in the sky. A black helicopter flew overhead.
“I’ve got to let you out here. You know the way?”
“I know the way.”
The next day, he was all over the news. The TV showed videos of his arrest outside of his home. The boy, now a man, was bundled out of a white car, and held with his wrists cuffed behind his back by FBI in brown suits. He smiled at the camera.
The story was ’Master Imposter Fools his Way into America, Posing as a Missing Child, Fooling the FBI and even the Boy’s Parents. They described him as a ‘predator preying on the most vulnerable, feeding off their hopes and fears to gain their confidence.’
“It’s almost unheard of, a foreigner pretending to be a missing child, fooling the boy’s own mother. It’s hard to even imagine it,” the news anchor said, ruffling his neat grey hair and deeply creased face. His voice rang with faux concern and moral outrage.
Angela refused to be on camera.
A tearful Peggy, on her way to the sheriff’s office, was stopped by reporters and cried, “Where’s the real Johnny?”
Porter was sitting at the bar, eating beer nuts and watching it all fall apart on the flat screen above the bar. Patrick looked at Porter and Porter said nothing.
The phone rang in the back and Patrick slapped his bar cloth down and went to go get it, only to come back a few seconds later.
“It’s for you: some FBI woman wants to talk to you about ears or some such nonsense.”
Porter went around the back, feeling a little smug, but keeping it off his face and out of his voice.
“Porter Caraway, this is Special Agent-“
“-Nancy Jaeger, I remember.”
“You were right”
“We have him, but it’s not over and I think you know that better than anyone.”
“…” Porter started counting his teeth with his tongue.
“He’s been talking, a lot, about the real Johnny, what he thinks happened to him. He’s implicated the kids’ parents and someone named ‘Jack.’ We’re having trouble tracking him down for an interview.”
“Did you question his mother?”
“We did. She passed a polygraph, twice.”
“And the third time?”
Nancy exhaled into the receiver and smiled.
“She failed, on every question. The needle almost jumped off the table.”
“Uh huh. What happened after that?”
“She didn’t take it well. The polygrapher confronted her and she stormed out of the room, screaming.”
“So you’ve got nothing.”
“Less than nothing. Polygraphs are a cheap parlor trick to convince juries, but they’re not solid evidence.”
“OK, now get to the part where I do you a favor.”
“He’s saying a lot, too much. He’s claiming to have information on several missing persons cases. And he’s already been caught using his phone calls to impersonate other missing children from the jail. He’s a compulsive liar and fraud; there’s not a jury on earth that would take anything he said seriously.”
“But you believe him? About the boy.”
“I have my suspicions, but I’m too caught up in all this to shift my focus onto finding the real Johnny. If I try to implicate the parents now, without any evidence, they’ll give the case to someone else. I have to be nailing Nulidad to the wall or the case falls apart.”
Porter breathed in deeply and thought about it. “Do you understand?” asked Nancy.
“Yeah,” Porter said as he hung up the phone and then picked it up again and started dialing.
Porter parked outside their old house on Swallow Street. It was a bright Texas morning. The house looked just as it had the same as last time he’d been here, only now there was a black Jeep grand Cherokee outside.
He walked up the driveway and rang the doorbell.
The drapes were pulled and he couldn’t see inside.
He waited. A figure appeared through the white lattice window in the door.
“What d’ya want?”
“We spoke on the phone.”
“Oh, yeah.” The sound of the door being unbolted was a full stop. Then Porter heard the clinking of the chain being taken off. A large man, around six feet tall, and well-built, with a gut of a long distance truck driver, stood in the doorway. He had a rough, short beard and a shaved head but an otherwise a friendly face and an affable demeanor. “Hey, how’s it going?” He put his hand out to shake and Porter took it. “Sorry about that; we get a lot of salesmen around here, you know what I mean? Please come in.” The large man let go of Porter’s hand stepped to the side to invite him in. He was wearing a generic white tee and sweat pants.
“Darrel, was it?”
Porter entered a small living room from the front door.
“Darren,” The man corrected. “How did you get my number again?”
“Your realtor was real chatty; I just had some questions to ask you.”
“About that case, right? I saw it on the news, about the missing boy. He used to live here? I had reporters buzzing around here, wanting to look around, but I really don’t know anything, how could I?”
“You said something about a black tarp, on the phone.”
Porter followed Darren out into his yard. It was slightly overgrown but otherwise well kept.
“When we first got my dog Bernie, he would always dig in the back corner.” Darren pointed to the far right back corner of his yard, where the back fence met an overgrown bush that was choking a small maple tree. “Over by that tree there, and one day I was mowing, and I sort of went under the bush a little. And I started picking up some of this plastic-like tarp; it got all clogged in the blades of the mower.”
He looked over at Porter to make sure he was hanging on his every word, and he was. “And I stop the mower, and I find where it’s coming from, and it’s this black plastic coming out of the ground.” Darren gestured with his hands, as if the dead were reaching out of the ground. He turned to Porter and he was nodding. “So I tried to pull it out from under the bush.” Darren mimed the action. “But as I kept trying to pull it, it just kept coming off in my hands. I couldn’t get a grip on it.” He sucked his gums and put his hands on his hips. “So I got fed up of that and I just covered it up and never paid it any mind until last night, when we were talking on the phone.”
Porter inhaled some fresh, cool air and rocked his head back and forth, looking at the overgrown bush. “That bush has been there a while. You didn’t plant that?”
“No, sir, that was here when we moved in.”
“Your wife home?”
“No, she’s at work. She works at the hospital. She’s a nurse practitioner; she won’t be back til about six, maybe later.”
“You got a shovel?”
The compromise was a trowel.
“Yeah, it was right about there, I think,” Darren was saying. “It was a good couple years ago when I found it.”
Porter knelt down. He’d tossed his jacket over the side of the fence and rolled up his shirt sleeves. He started gently prodding the earth with the trowel, kneading it like dry dough. After only a minute, he could hear a crinkling sound. He started to pry and dust the dirt off.
He managed to get a good chuck levered out with the trowel. A dull plastic tarp caught the light and was throwing it back.
It seemed clichéd and dreamlike: predictable, so predictable; it was almost laughable, like an episode of ‘Murder She Wrote,’ but there it was, lying on the ground.
“What is that? A bone? Is it like a dog bone?” Darren said nervously.
Porter pried the tarp open, revealing more of the bone; it was long and discolored.
“I’m no expert.”
“But can you make a guess? I mean, come on, man, did my dog put that there or what?”
“I can make a lot of guesses, none of them any good. But I can be sure your dog didn’t wrap it up in a tarp before he buried it.”
He moved it with the trowel to get a better look.
“It’s human, ain’t it?”
“Seems that way.” Porter sighed. “Ah, I dunno,” he said as he rolled back onto his heels and dusted himself off.
“So what does it mean? Is that the kid? Was he here all along? Oh, Jesus, help me!”
Porter sighed. Something prickly was crawling up his back and breathing down his neck.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Wait, what d’ya mean? Who else could it be? You don’t think it’s the kid’s?”
“It looks like a femur, a leg bone.”
“It’s too long to be a kid’s.”
“Oh, Jesus, then who?”
Porter sighed and gritted his teeth, his lips tightly pursed.
“I have no idea.”
“Well, what the hell do I do with it? I should go to the police?” He said like he didn’t really want to.
“Sit on it for now. You don’t want the cops digging up your lawn with a back hoe over what could just be a dead dog.”
Porter stopped at a gas station to use the phone.
He lit a cigarette and leaned out of the booth, listening to it ring.
It clicked on. A tense woman’s voice answered.
“Jaeger, its Porter. I had a visit with the guy who moved into their old house.”
“And? Did you find anything?”
“There was nothing in the house but we found something in the garden, buried under a black tarp.”
“Oh, Jesus, you found him?”
“Not so sure. Can’t guarantee it’s even human. Just bones, but from what I can tell, it looks too developed to be a kid.”
“I told you. My hands are tied right now. I can’t touch whatever it is you’re doing and I can’t send forensics to some guy’s house on your say so.”
“So what can you do?” There was a challenge in his voice.
“Jack called me, I’ve been trying to get hold of you all day, but your friend said you were out and you don’t carry a cellphone.”
“And what did Mr. ‘Long-chain-on’ have to say for himself?”
“I asked if he’d come in for questioning and he refused. Apparently he didn’t believe that Nulidad was his brother, but didn’t want to say anything to upset his mother.”
“And then nothing.”
“Do you know where he is?” Porter sighed.
“I looked into his records and there’s an address for a rehab clinic he spent some time at. It’s possible they might know where he stays. It’s on Calebra, West San Antonio.”
Porter took a breath.
“So I go there and I find out where this guy hangs out and then what?”
“If you find him, call it in as an anonymous tip related to drug offences and we’ll have him picked up and questioned; that’s all”.
“First, tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“What do you make of it?”
“You wanna know what I think? I think they know where their son is.” She paused and put her hand over the receiver for a second. She came back on with a rustling sound. “I don’t believe a mother could mistake her only son for a stranger, not in a million years.”
Porter let out a breath and then sucked on his gums before saying, “I’ll let you know,” and hung up.