In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 13

Beth shuddered in her jail cell. Despite the wool blanket they had given her, which itched like crazy, she was freezing. She turned over and pulled the blanket higher. It did no good at all. Grunting, she flung her legs over the side of the cot and sat up.

Giving up on sleep, she got up off the cot and wandered around the cell. Anger consumed her as she paced back and forth. Every time she came to the side of the cell, she smacked the bars with an open hand. She should be home right now tucking her little Timmy into bed.

The thought of Timmy calmed her, and a small smile came to her lips as she visualized their nightly routine: dinner, a game of Chutes and Ladders, a half hour of television—that would most likely be Thomas the Tank Engine. Timmy loved that show. Then a bedtime story, a giant kiss and hug, and then off to slumber land.

She took a deep breath and exhaled, wondering if Katherine would remember Timmy liked peas, and he always got a cookie after dinner—his reward for eating all his vegetables—just one, though. If she knew Timmy, he would try to outsmart Katherine. He might convince her he only had to eat half his vegetables, and skip his meatloaf altogether. Katherine had no experience with children, hadn’t even been around them as a child. Would she fall for his angelic persuasions? Her smile grew as she envisioned her son, the negotiator, as her father liked to call him, bartering for an hour of television. What would he be willing to give up tonight?

A tear slipped down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly. She would not let Jack bring her to tears. She had purged him from her system five years ago. Had she? Really? Hadn’t she slipped easily into the role of Lizzie again? Timmy hadn’t been on her mind then, or surely she would have pushed Jack away.

When Beth first met Jack, she saw a lonely, underprivileged man—desperate for someone to tame him. She knew her father hadn’t liked him, but that only spurred her on. She had been determined to turn Jack into a better person, and it was working—at least until their trip to New York.

Beth walked to the side of the cell and clung to the bars. She allowed the memory to come with full force.

***

At first, it had been great. It was the first time she and Jack had been on a plane together, and she had sprung for first-class seats. She snuggled into Jack’s shoulder as the plane took off. Jack kissed the top of her head. He didn’t deserve her love. He knew that. Truthfully, he was afraid of going home. He hadn’t been back since he was a kid. He couldn’t have been more than ten the last time he had seen his father. He was fourteen when his mother had taken him and run off to San Francisco, hoping to flee not only her past but also the trouble into which Jack was getting.

He sighed and shifted his weight. Lizzie looked up at him. “You okay?”

He nodded. “I’m nervous. It’s been so long, what if I don’t recognize him?”

She laid her head back down. “You will. How could you not recognize your father?”

“I don’t know if finding him is important. He ran out on us when we needed him the most.” He shifted again, and Lizzie sat up.

“Is that why you got into so much trouble?”

“It was part of it, but it also had to do with the way we lived. I didn’t go to some fancy private school where the only thing expected of me was getting an A. Life in my neighborhood was tough. There, surviving until your next birthday was how we lived.”

She could hear the bitterness in his voice. She hated when he sounded that way as if it were her fault his life had been so tough. She could only imagine what it had been like, but she knew plenty of kids who didn’t have the fairytale childhood. They didn’t pass the blame. They just worked harder to overcome it.

She pushed her irritation aside, straightened in her seat, and fixed a big grin on her face. “Well, it’s all in the past now. You have so much of which to be proud. He’ll see that.”

They fell into silence together. Not the comfortable silence they usually felt, but a strained one. Lizzie laid her head back against the seat. Soon the lull of the airplane worked its magic, rocking her to sleep.

Jack watched her sleep. He loved watching her chest rise and fall, liked watching the way her mouth twitched as she drifted into the various stages of the dream cycle.

He picked up her hand, cradled it against his chest, and then kissed each of her fingers. “I love you, Lizzie,” he said.

She mumbled indiscernible words in her sleep that made Jack smile. “I’ll make you proud, Lizzie, no matter what.”

The first place they looked for him was their old apartment. Jack didn’t expect to find him there, but it was worth a shot.

The taxi pulled up to the curb. Lizzie handed the driver two twenties, and they got out.

“You don’t want me to wait?” he asked.

Lizzie looked at Jack for confirmation.

“Naw, we might be here awhile.” The driver pocketed the bills and sped off.

They stood for a moment, surveying the apartment building. “Wow,” Lizzie said. The building was rundown and overgrown. Broken bicycles littered the yard and overturned trashcans littered the street—spilling garbage everywhere. Drying laundry hung from numerous windowsills. An emaciated dog stood tethered to a post that poked out from the ground. He lifted his head, gave them a cursory glance, and laid his head back down. Loud music poured out of several windows, causing Lizzie to cover her ears.

Jack looked at her and grinned. “Home-sweet-home,” he said, and Lizzie grimaced.

This life of poverty was another world to Lizzie. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she had never experienced this kind of deprivation. Sure, she had read about it in books, seen it in movies, but she had never given it a second thought.

She squeezed Jack’s hand. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I came all this way. I’m not backing out now.”

They made their way to the door. Jack opened it, and Lizzie stepped inside the lobby, gasping as she saw the interior. The lobby walls in her building were pristine white, not a speck of dirt or smudge on them. These walls covered with graffiti was sometimes artful, sometimes distasteful. On one wall profanity seemed to be the theme. It almost appeared as if people had an obscenity contest. Another wall displayed a beautiful woman dressed in what looked to be a ceremonial costume of some kind.

“It’s beautiful,” Lizzie said.

Jack took her hand and led her to a far corner. He bent down, looking for something. He found it, pointed it out, and Lizzie bent down to look at it. The painting was of an eagle flying over an ocean. The sun shone in the background, magically making the ocean’s waves sparkle. It was beautiful. She almost felt like she was flying with the Eagle. She looked at the initials, JC. “Did you paint this?”

He nodded. “I painted it on the day we left. The eagle represents my freedom, the sun—my hope, and the water—my peace. It’s everything I craved on that day and thought I would find in San Francisco.”

She looked over at his profile. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

He turned and grinned at her. Squeezing her hand, he said, “I found you.”

He leaned over and kissed her. When he pulled back, she turned and looked at the painting again. She reached out and ran her fingers over it. “It’s beautiful. I had no idea you could paint like this. Why aren’t you doing something with this talent?”

He shrugged. “It hardly pays the bills.” He stood and, guiding her by the hand, led her past the elevator to the staircase.

She noticed an out of order sign on the elevator, for which Jack gave a cursory nod. “It’s always out of order. I hope you’re up for a climb. We were on the eighth floor.”

She looked up, then forlornly back at the elevator. “I don’t mind,” she said. “But I wonder what you’re hoping to find up there? You said your dad ran out on you, so he’s not likely to be here.”

“I know, but the people around might know where he’s hanging these days.”

When they reached the sixth floor, they saw a little boy about six-years-old sitting on the landing. Lizzie smiled at him, and he flipped her off. Jack laughed. “Welcome to my world, Miss Reynolds.”

Lizzie chuckled. It had been funny seeing the middle finger sticking up straight-as-an-arrow on such a little boy. They finally arrived on the eighth floor, where they saw three children playing kickball up and down the hallway. Expecting the worst, Lizzie prepared for vulgarity. To her surprise, a little girl—a spectator of the game—smiled at her and held out an Oreo cookie. She hesitated for a moment, and then took the cookie. “I’ll save it for later,” she said, “after I’ve had my dinner.” She put the cookie in her pocket and they traveled on.

Jack stopped in front of apartment 809. “This is it.” He rapped on the door. A man with a raspy voice screamed from the other side of the door, “Who the hell is it?”

Jack and Lizzie looked at each other. Lizzie grimaced. “I hope that’s not your dad.”

Jack laughed and shouted through the door, “My name is Jack Cole. I used to live here.”

“Big goddamned deal. I live here now. Get the hell away.”

“Maybe we’d better go,” Lizzie said.

Jack shook his head. “I’m looking for my father, Walter Cole.”

“I don’t’ know no Walter Cole. I said go away, and I mean it. I’ve got a shotgun aimed at that door, and I swear I’ll blow your ass away if you don’t turn and leave right now.”

A door behind them swung open. They both turned and stared into the face of a woman who appeared to have been beautiful at one time. “I know Wally.” She nodded at the door. “He ain’t kiddin’ about the shotgun.”

Jack and Lizzie stepped away from the door, crossing the hallway to stand in front of the woman. She wore a long violet gown and sandals that sparkled. Her hair was black, speckled in spots with gray, pulled up and secured at the back with a clip. Her eyes, heavily caked with makeup, were green and wild. She held a cigarette in one hand and a glass of dark-colored liquor in the other. She was thin and gaunt as if she hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a while. Lizzie felt empathy for her. She had probably picked up the gown at some thrift shop and was making a last-ditch effort to hold on to youthful pride.

“Do you know where I can find him?” Jack asked.

“He don’t live here anymore,” she said. “But you can probably find him playing cards down at the dog.”

“The dog?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, Vinnie Lampole’s place, The Diggity Dog, down on 5th street. He has a game room in the back. That’s where Wally plays cards.” She looked Jack up and down, a lascivious look on her face. She smiled. “So—you’re Wally’s boy. Damn, boy, you grew up beautiful.”

“Did I know you before, when I lived here?”

She cackled. “Little ole Jack,” she said. “I used to babysit you when you was in diapers. Then your mama took you away and broke my Wally’s heart. He ain’t been the same since.”

Jack nodded recognition setting in. “You’re Ronnie,” he said.

She cackled. “That’s right.”

“You look a bit different.”

She laughed a raspy smoker’s laugh. “Shit, boy—it’s been at least ten years.” She waved a hand in front of her face. “I does the best I can to stay young, but Mama Nature ain’t always hard to fool.”

Jack held out his hand for a handshake, but Ronnie opened her arms and threw them around Jack. The liquid from the cup sloshed over the side, spattering the front of Lizzie’s blouse. Instinctively, she gasped. Ronnie and Jack both turned to look at her.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Ronnie said. “Come on in and I’ll clean you up.”

“No, really,” Lizzie said. “It’s okay. There’s hardly a spot at all.” She took out a handkerchief from her pocketbook and started dabbing at it. “See, all better.” She smiled for effect.

Jack stepped away from Ronnie. “Thanks for your help. We’d better get going.” He reached out and touched Lizzie’s elbow, guiding her toward the stairs.

“You’re welcome,” she called after them. “If you find Wally, tell him I’m a missin’ him and my bed’s cold.”

Lizzie blushed. Jack smiled at her and waved to Ronnie. “I will.”

They nearly ran down the steps, laughter spilling from them. When they reached the lobby, Lizzie bolted for the door, pushed herself through it, and took a huge gulp of fresh air. She said, “My God, there has to be a century of cigarette smoke clinging to those walls.”

“At least,” Jack agreed. “Come on,” he said, pulling her down the street. “It’s not that far from here.”

They walked along the street, passing kids hanging out, mostly doing nothing. Nobody bothered them, despite the fact they stuck out like a sore thumb. “Hold on a minute.” She pulled out some money and gave it to a little boy. “There’s a dog tethered a little ways back. Will you take this money and pick up some food for him? He’s starved.”

The boy snatched the money and ran. Lizzie, surprised, asked Jack, “Will he do it?”

Jack shrugged. “Maybe, but do you realize how many dogs are starving around here?”

“I don’t want to think about it,” she said.

Jack shook his head and frowned. “That’s part of the problem. Nobody ever wants to think of it.”

Lizzie resisted the temptation to argue. Did he blame people like her family for the ignorance of these underprivileged. It didn’t take money to open a book and educate oneself. Nobody told them to put a needle in their arm for the pleasure of momentary happiness. She shook her head and kept walking.

They came to a park, and Lizzie couldn’t help but compare it to the parks in San Francisco. Unlike San Francisco parks, which had bright green lawns stretching across wide, open areas spotted with occasional picnic benches, this one had tufts of brown grass trying desperately to grow. The few picnic benches she saw were old and weathered. A group of teens sat around one. A girl lay upon the table and the boys, who surrounded her, took turns kissing her. One of them opened the buttons of her jeans and slid his hand down inside, while another pushed up her shirt, exposing her breast. Curious about the display of open affection, Lizzie couldn’t help but stare.

Jack pulled her faster. “Voyeurism might get you a ride to the coroner’s office in this neighborhood,” he said. “Or worse—you could end up on top of that table.”

“Are they raping her?” Lizzie asked, shocked.

“Not likely, but it’s always possible.”

“We should do something.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said, saddened by the fact she had witnessed it. He loved Lizzie and wanted to protect her from all the evils of the world. Suddenly, he knew it had been a mistake to bring her. All her life someone had protected her from this sort of evil — why had he been the one to shatter her innocence. He stopped and pulled her against him. “We should go home,” he said.

“No. We came all this way to find your father. We’re not going home until we do.”

He stepped back, opened his arms to display his surroundings. “I shouldn’t have brought you to this. I had no right to subject you to this kind of filth.”

“I’m not a child, Jack. I know what kind of things go on in this world.” She began to walk again. “Let’s get going. It’s getting dark.”

Jack sighed and stepped into place beside her. He placed a protective arm around her shoulder. It wasn’t a guarantee, but in most cases nobody would mess with someone else’s property.

They came to The Diggity Dog and stopped, staring at the old door, which was in desperate need of painting. The neon Diggity Dog sign displayed in the window had three bulbs burned out, so it read, The Digty og, instead.

Jack’s heart started thumping. He said, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Lizzie squeezed his hand. “Sure you can.” She reached out and pushed open the door. Laughter, cigarette smoke, and loud music poured out. She coughed, and stepped through the door, pulling Jack behind her.

A scantily clad waitress greeted them, smiling a huge, welcoming smile. “Welcome to The Diggety Dog. Sit wherever you like,” she said, handing them a couple of menus.

Jack started to protest, but Lizzie silenced him. “I’m hungry,” she said.

“You want to eat here?”

“No, but we’re here, I’m hungry, and we want information—information we might not get if we just waltz in and ask.” He frowned. She smiled and said, “Just leave it to me.”

They sat in the nearest booth, ready to bolt if need be.

The waitress came back, carrying two glasses of water. She set them down in front of them. “I recommend our signature dog, The Diggety Dog,” she said. “I guarantee you’ve never tasted anything like it.”

They both nodded. She took their menus from them and left without writing down their orders.

“You think she’ll remember?” Jack asked.

“Everyone probably gets the signature dog,” Lizzie said.

She returned to the table with a tray laden with condiments, which she set on the table between them. “Be right back,” she said and left again.

Lizzie and Jack stared at the tray incredulously. “People put this stuff on a hot dog,” Lizzie said. She picked up a whole pickle and bit into it.

Jack said, “That’s supposed to be for the dog.”

Lizzie shook her head. “No way am I putting a whole pickle on my dog.” She picked up a spoon, examined the contents, and wrinkled her nose. “Sour cream?”

The waitress returned with two plates and set them down. Steam escaped from the ends of the oversized hot dog. Resting next to the dogs was a generous scoop of potato salad.

“Eat, drink, and be merry,” she said and smiled. “Can I get you drinks?”

Lizzie shook her head and pointed at her water glass. Jack ordered a beer.

She was just returning to the table with Jack’s beer when Lizzie took her first bite. “Oh, my God,” Lizzie said. “This is the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted.”

The waitress beamed as if she were personally responsible for its taste. “Everyone has that same reaction.”

They devoured the hot dogs and then sat staring at each other. “What now?” Jack asked.

“We fish for information,” Lizzie said.

When the waitress returned with their check, and asked if she could get anything else for them, Jack tested the waters. “I’m looking for someone. I was hoping you might have seen him.”

“Who?” she asked with a tentative smile on her lips. Her hands began to clear their plates.

“My father. Walter Cole.”

Her hand stilled. Jack and Lizzie looked at each other. Jack raised an eyebrow. Lizzie gave an imperceptible nod in the direction of the waitress.

Jack leaned forward on his elbows. “You know my father?”

She set the plates back down and nodded. She looked around to see if anybody was watching, and then slid into the booth next to Jack. “Don’t say his name too loudly around here, and don’t go around announcing you’re his kid.”

Jack shook his head. “Why not?”

She glanced at the backroom. Jack followed her gaze. He supposed they dealt cards in that room. “He owes a lot of money to the boss, who, by the way, doesn’t care who pays it up, if you know what I mean.”

Jack did know, but Lizzie stared blankly.

The waitress smiled at her innocence. “You two best be getting along.”

She stood, picked the plates back up again, and began to walk away. “Try Sing Sing. I heard some talk about him being there. I don’t know if it’s true.” She walked away.

Lizzie looked at Jack. “What do we do now?”

He shook his head. “We go back to the hotel.”

He stood and threw some money on the table. Taking Lizzie by the arm, he led her out the door. The waitress stared at their departing backs, shaking her head.

They found a cab easily enough and headed back to the hotel. Jack slammed his fists together, ran his hands through his hair, and then sat in silence. The taxi driver looked at him in the rearview mirror, keeping a watchful eye on him, relieved when they finally pulled up to the hotel.

Jack bolted from the cab without waiting for Lizzie.

Lizzie paid the driver, pausing as he asked, “Are you going to be all right, Miss?”

“I’ll be fine,” Lizzie said. “He’s just had some disappointing news. That’s all.”

Reluctantly, the driver sped off. Lizzie made her way to the room, where she found Jack packing. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Packing, can’t you see that?”

“Don’t snap at me, Jack. I’m not the one who let you down.”

She crossed to him, pulling him down beside her on the bed. “We’re not leaving,” she said firmly. “Not until you have the answers you’re looking for.”

She could see tears forming in his eyes, but knew he was too tough to let them spill. She pulled him against her. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the prison and check it out. Until then, don’t jump to conclusions.”

She felt him relax against her. “I don’t deserve you.”

She grinned. “This is true.” He chuckled, and the sound made her glad she was there.

The next morning, Jack wouldn’t eat when room service delivered the cart Lizzie ordered. “Eat,” Lizzie said.

He shook his head. “I can’t. My stomach is in knots.”

“It’s going to be a long day, and who knows when we’ll get a chance to eat again.” She sat down and began eating. Moments later, Jack joined her. He ate a bagel and downed some coffee and juice.

“Eat something else,” she said, but he shook his head. She sighed. “Okay, then. Let’s get going.”

They rented a car through the hotel concierge and drove the thirty miles to the correctional facility. Lizzie gasped when she saw the massive structure that lay before them. A chill ran up her spine as she thought of anyone living there. She wondered what it would feel like locked up behind those walls.

They approached the building. Jack squeezed her hand. “Do you want to wait in the car?”

She shook her head, and they continued, approaching the gate much quicker than she had expected.

A guard greeted them. “What are your names and your purpose?”

“I’m here to see my father, Walter Cole,” Jack said. He took a deep breath, hoping he would tell them they had no inmate by that name.

The guard eyed them, rested his eyes on Lizzie’s bag. “You won’t be able to take that in there, Miss.”

“I’ll lock it in the car,” Jack said. Lizzie took out her cash, identification, and her credit cards, stuffing them all into her pockets. Jack took the bag from her and dashed off.

She fidgeted as the guard repeatedly glanced at her. Finally, Jack returned, breathless from running.

The guard instructed them on the procedures, and then gave them permission to enter.

Another guard sat at a window checking people in. They were fifth in line, so they nervously waited.

“Is this your first time here?” a woman behind them asked.

Lizzie and Jack turned and looked at her. She was an older woman, hair ratty and gray, eyes cloudy with age. She squinted when she smiled at them.

“Is it that obvious?” Lizzie asked.

The old woman laughed. “I recognize the nervous twitter. I had the same butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling when I first came.”

“We’re here to visit Jack’s father,” Lizzie said. She blushed as Jack looked scornfully at her.

“It’s all right, dear,” she said to Jack. “There’s no reason to be embarrassed. We all have a loved one in here. Nobody’s judging you.”

“Next,” the guard called from behind the window.

Jack turned and stepped up. Lizzie followed.

They presented their photo identification and waited as the guard looked up Walter Cole’s information on her computer. After verifying Walter was eligible for visitors, the guard handed them two visitor badges and instructed them to have a seat until all the visitors were cleared to enter.

They chose seats near the window. Moments later, the old woman came and sat down beside them. “It’s not that bad,” she said, continuing their conversation as if they never had been interrupted. “I’ve been coming here every week for nearly six years. I ride the bus in from the city. My son is here,” she added, almost as a fact of pride.

“What did he do?” Lizzie asked.

“Armed robbery,” she said. “Times are tough, and Jimmie just couldn’t handle it.” She smiled, and Lizzie could see gaps in her mouth where teeth had rotted and either fallen or been taken out.

“May I ask why you don’t just move closer to the prison and save yourself the long bus ride?”

“I enjoy my outings. I’m an old woman and don’t get out much anymore.” She smiled coyly as if her age were some secret. “What did he do?” she asked.

“Jack’s father?” Lizzie asked, and the woman nodded her head. “We don’t know. We only just found out he’s here. Jack hasn’t seen him in several years.”

“Ah, a family reunion then, how nice.” She smiled again, and Lizzie wondered how she could be so happy to spend her days coming here.

A loud buzzer sounded then, making Lizzie jump.

“It’s okay, Dear,” the woman said. She laid a hand over one of Lizzie’s. It was rough as if this woman spent a lot of time working with her hands. “That just means it’s time to go in.” She stood and wandered over to where a line had already begun to form. They followed her, falling into line behind her.

When the last of the visitors were in the visitation room, the doors shut. Lizzie jumped, suddenly feeling trapped.

Another door opened and, one-by-one, prisoners began to enter. Lizzie watched with a tearful eye as the woman practically ran into her son’s arms.

She was surprised to see how many children were present. It was hard to believe after watching these men interact with their children, that any of them could have done something so serious they deserved incarceration in a maximum-security prison.

Jack stiffened beside her as a tall, dark-haired man who, aside from the streaks of gray, bore a striking resemblance to Jack entered. Obviously, this was Walter Cole. Lizzie squeezed his hand, offering her support.

He approached them, and they rose to greet him. There was no tearful reunion here, no words of gratitude for making the long, arduous journey to see him, no warm smile. Just, “I have to say I was quite surprised when they told me you were here,” Walter said. “How’d you find me?”

Jack shrugged. “I asked around.”

“Why?”

“I had to know what became of you, and why you left us.”

“Does it matter that much?”

They sat down as Jack pondered the question. Most of his life people pitied him. There goes Jack Cole, poor boy—his father ran out on him, you know. Poor Jack has no father to teach him right from wrong. Poor Jack, no father to play catch with or bounce a basketball. On the surface, he had shrugged it off—deep down, though, he melted every time he heard or felt someone’s pity. “Yeah, it does.”

Walter stared into his son’s gray-green eyes, a feature he had inherited from his mother. He hadn’t wanted to be a father. Leticia had tricked him into marriage, or at least that’s how Walter looked at it. Walter wasn’t meant to be tied down. He was footloose and fancy-free, as his mother had always put it. Impregnating Leticia had been an accident of fate, although Leticia said it was God’s way of intervening. Walter didn’t believe in God. He prided himself on the fact that he stuck it out as long as he had.

“I didn’t ask to be a father. Leticia wanted a kid, not me. I didn’t want walls around me. I wanted to be a free spirit. You know what I mean?”

Jack laughed at the irony. Several people turned to look at him but soon turned back to their families. “And now you have all the freedom you want,” he said sarcastically. “Look at these walls.” Jack spread his arms out. “Do these walls make you happy?”

Walther leaned forward as if he didn’t want anyone else to hear what he had to say. “Look,” he said, “I don’t know what you expected to find, but—”

“I was hoping to find a father filled with regret. But all I got was you,” he said accusingly. “What’d you do to get in here?”

Walter sat back up and shrugged. “I got in a bar fight, killed a man with my knife.”

“Why?”

He shrugged again. “Hell, if I remember. I was high at the time.”

Jack shook his head and rose from the bench, putting an end to the incongruous visit. He said, “Come on, Lizzie. I found what I was looking for.”

They left Walter Cole sitting there, looking like a dejected soul. Jack didn’t glance back, but Lizzie did. She would have sworn she saw a tear slip down his cheek.

They returned to San Francisco, and Jack seemed to go through some sort of metamorphosis right before Lizzie’s eyes. He became moody, snapping at Lizzie at every opportunity. They started hanging out in bars and pool halls, refusing to go home—even when Lizzie pleaded. Jack started getting into fistfights nearly every night. Most nights Lizzie took him home, and he passed out before she could get him in the apartment. One night, when he and Lizzie were supposed to be celebrating Jack getting a new client, Jack said, “Oh, what’s the use, I come from trash anyway.”

Lizzie, angry, had said, “Snap out of this, Jack. You are not trash just because your father is in prison.”

It hadn’t done any good. He simply looked her in the eye and said, “Even your dad thinks so.” He walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

By Christmastime, Jack began to take on a hollowed-out look. He barely ate, and Lizzie threatened to force feed him like a baby if he didn’t start eating on his own.

On New Year’s Eve, a man came to the apartment. He scared Lizzie with his constant stares, as they waited for Jack, to finish showering. When Jack came out, he gave Lizzie a cursory kiss and told her not to wait up.

“Where are you going?” she asked, but Jack flew out the door without acknowledging her question.

Her parents were having their annual New Year’s Eve ball, so she donned a pretty dress and went to drown her sorrows.

Her father, keen to his daughter’s moods, pressured her for information, but she held a firm lip. She danced the night away, pretending to be happy for her parents’ sake, and stuffed her face with exotic foods. She spent the night in her old bedroom, and when she returned to her apartment, she found Jack passed out on the sofa.

Two weeks after that, she convinced him to take her dancing to celebrate their anniversary. She was disappointed when he pulled the car into the parking lot of Cue’s Alley. “I thought you were taking me out to dine and dance,” she said.

“You can dance right here.”

“But Jack, tonight’s supposed to be special,” she protested.

“Only a moment, Baby, I promise. Then we’ll be on our way.”

To Lizzie’s surprise, they didn’t go inside. Instead, Jack led her around to the back of the pool hall. She gasped when the man who had come to the apartment stepped out of the shadows. “It’s okay, Baby,” Jack said.

“What’s he doing here?” She looked around. “For that matter, what are we doing here?”

“Sammy and I have a little business. That’s all.”

Sammy pulled out a package and held it out to Jack. For only a moment, Jack hesitated. Then he snatched the package from him as if Sammy might change his mind and rescind the offer. Then he shoved a wad of money at him. No sooner had the exchange taken place, than a high beamed flashlight hit them square in the eyes.

“What’s going on out here?” a man called.

Lizzie saw Sammy pull out a gun, screamed as he pulled the trigger and saw the man with the flashlight collapse to the ground. Sammy took off on a run. Jack followed behind him. “Run, Lizzie!” he yelled.

Lizzie stood frozen in place, unable to move, unable to run, and unable to believe what had just happened. Finally, instinct took over, and Lizzie ran to the side of the man. Dropping to her knees, she began to assess him.

Having heard the gunshot, passersby began to congregate. “Someone call 911,” she shouted. Having little medical knowledge, she began to do the only thing she could think to do. She began CPR.

Moments later, three police cars arrived, flanked by an ambulance. Lizzie stepped back as the paramedics took over.

She stood a short distance away, watching as several people pointed her out to the police. Then her body began to shake uncontrollably, as they made their way to her.

“I’m Officer Simons, Miss. Can I get some information from you?”

Lizzie nodded and looked him in the eye with her tear-filled ones.

“Can I see some ID, please?”

Lizzie looked around, confused. “I must have dropped it.”

The officer began to look, too. Spotting a handbag a few feet away, he asked, “Is that yours?”

Lizzie followed his glance, saw the bag lying on the ground and nodded.

He retrieved the bag and handed it to Lizzie. When she reached in to extract her wallet, she pulled out a large package of white powder, instead. “What the—”

“Hold it right there,” the officer said. She heard a gun click and looked up to see five pistols pointed at her.

“Hand it over,” he said.

Lizzie shook her head. “That’s not mine.”

He took the handbag from her. “I need some ID.”

She nodded. “In my wallet.”

He extracted her driver’s license from her wallet and handed the bag to his partner.

“Miss Reynolds, I’m going to have to take you in.”

Lizzie looked stupefied, shaking her head again. “Why? I told you that’s not mine. I’ve never seen that before.”

“Turn around please. You’re under arrest for possession of an illegal substance and attempted homicide,” he said.

Lizzie looked down at the package. “That’s not mine!” she cried.

He read her rights to her, did a brief inspection for weapons, and led her to a police cruiser, locking her inside. Lizzie sat in the back seat, waiting and watching as the paramedics loaded the man into the back of the ambulance and took off, sirens blaring.

Officer Simons and his partner got into the front seat and wordlessly drove off.

When they arrived at the police station, they took her to an interrogation room and allowed her to make a phone call. She sat staring at the phone, unsure of whom to call.

“Are you going to make the call?” Officer Simons asked.

Lizzie nodded. She picked up the phone and dialed Katherine Winters.

“Don’t say a word until I get there,” Katherine said.

She was there in record speed, rushing into the room with a flurry of questions. “Did they read you your rights? How long have they kept you here? Did you say anything before they read your rights to you?”

Lizzie shook her head at each question. She looked at Katherine with panic-stricken eyes. “I didn’t do anything, Katherine.”

Katherine looked at her with indecision, trying to decide if she should treat her as a friend or a client. Lizzie started to cry, making Katherine’s decision for her. She ran to her side, pulled her into an embrace, soothing her hair with maternal instinct. “It’s okay. We’ll figure it all out.”

When Lizzie pulled herself together, Katherine nodded toward Officer Simons. “Okay. We’re ready to begin.”

Lizzie told them what happened. Officer Simons nodded appropriately, as the story unfolded. When she came to the part where the officer picked up the package, Katherine interrupted.

“Wait a minute. My client never actually had the package on her?”

“It was in her purse.”

“Which was not in her possession at the time.”

“It was lying on the ground near to where she stood, and nobody else was there.”

Lizzie shook her head. “No, Katherine. I didn’t have it.” Her eyes went wide. “The last time I saw it…” She stopped. If she told the truth, Jack might get in trouble. On the other hand, a man was at the hospital fighting for his life, or possibly dead for all she knew. She shook her head. “I don’t remember exactly. I just know I never touched that package until I pulled it out of my purse.”

Katherine looked Lizzie square in the eyes. She turned toward Officer Simons. “May I have a moment of privacy with my client?” He rose and walked to the door. “Don’t forget to turn off the microphone,” she said.

He shook his head and exited. When the door closed, Katherine asked Lizzie, “Whom are you protecting?”

“Nobody.”

“Don’t lie to me. I see it in your eyes.”

She demurred. “I can’t do it,” she said.

Katherine sighed. “Well, it doesn’t matter anyhow. They will test for fingerprints. They will see who else touched that package.”

Beth bit her lower lip. She was on the verge of speaking when she changed her mind. Let them find out on their own. At least she wouldn’t be the one to betray Jack.

Katherine looked up at the window that separated the interrogation room from the squad room, signaling an end to their conversation. Officer Simon reentered the room carrying a couple sheets of paper.

“When you fingerprint the package, you’ll see my client’s prints aren’t the only ones on it. Let’s just save her a lot of troubles and cut her loose.”

“We already ran them. We believe her story. Your client is free to go.” He slid a picture in front of her. “We’d like your help, though,” he said, “in exchange for your cooperation.” He stared at her for a minute then said, “We found these prints on the package. He’s a known drug dealer. Do you know where we can find this man?”

Lizzie looked at the picture, recognized the man as Sammy, the one they had met in the alley behind the pool hall. She shook her head. “He came to the apartment once, and then we saw him in the alley, but I don’t know anything about him, except he’s the one who had the gun tonight.”

“His name is Samuel Leon, and he’s into some heavy shit.” He slid another photo in front of her. “How about this man?”

Lizzie gasped. “That’s Jack.”

He nodded. “Yes, Jack Cole. Do you know where we can find him?”

Lizzie sat silently. She could not turn on him.

Officer Simons sighed. “Okay. You’re free to go.”

He got up and left the room. Back in the squad room, he spoke to an officer. “When she leaves, tail her. She’s bound to lead us to Jack Cole.”

Lizzie and Katherine left together. “You need a ride?”

Lizzie nodded. “Jack drove us.”

They rode to the apartment in silence. “Do you want me to come up with you?”

Lizzie shook her head. “I’m okay. It’s over now, right?”

“You’ll have to testify when they find Jack and Samuel. It’s part of the deal for letting you go. There will be some probation, but that’s not a big deal.”

She sighed. “How am I going to do that?”

She opened the door, thanked Katherine for her help, and dragged herself up to her apartment.

When she turned on the light, she screamed, “Jack!”

“Hey, Baby. You all right?” He embraced her.

She fought against him, torn between rage and relief. “No thanks to you, Jack.” He held her firmly until she quit struggling. She breathed in his scent, which didn’t smell at all like Jack, but of sweat, back alleys, and cigarettes. She beat on his chest, tears flowing down her cheek. “I can’t believe you left me like that.”

“I thought you were right behind me.”

“I couldn’t leave that poor man to die. What have you gotten yourself into?”

“I’m sorry, Baby. I panicked. I didn’t know Sammy was bringing a gun.”

“Who is he?” she asked.

“A dealer.”

“Yeah, I got that part. How do you know him?”

“Friend of a friend. You know how that goes.”

“I know you’re in a lot of trouble, and Sammy is into some heavy stuff.”

Jack nodded just as a knock sounded on the door.

Lizzie froze, not sure what to do.

Jack crossed to the door, looked out the peephole, whispered, “Cops.”

Lizzie guessed they might show up, but she hadn’t thought they would be this fast. “I’ll have to answer it.”

Jack dashed to the bedroom. Lizzie waited until she saw the door close and then opened it.

“Miss Reynolds?” Lizzie nodded. “We have a warrant to search the apartment.”

They handed her a paper. She looked at it. Then she nodded and stepped aside, hoping Jack had found a good hiding place. She doubted it. Their apartment was on the tenth floor, the only place Jack had to go would be the fire escape. As if that hadn’t been done a million times.

Three officers entered the room and immediately began to search closets. One of them opened the bedroom and said, “Bingo.”

Jack came out without a fight. The officer put handcuffs on him.

“I’m sorry, Lizzie,” Jack said.

Lizzie nodded as the officer led Jack past her.

Six weeks later Katherine entered her office and smiled at Lizzie. “They caught Samuel Leon.” She dropped a newspaper on Lizzie’s desk.

Lizzie picked it up and sighed. “Thank God. I haven’t slept well with him running loose out there.”

“I thought you looked a bit peaked.”

Lizzie bit her lower lip, biting hard enough to draw blood. “I’m pregnant,” she said.

Katherine did a double take. “Come again?”

Lizzie nodded. “I said I’m pregnant.”

“Oh,” Katherine said. “How do you feel about that?”

She laughed. “Scared to death. Do you think you can get me in to see Jack?”

“When’s his hearing?”

“Three days.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

That same day, Lizzie sat across from Jack, a heavy glass partition between them—each of them perched with a phone receiver in one of their hands.

“Hi, Lizzie,” Jack said. “It’s good to see you.”

She nodded. A look of sadness pulled her smile down. “You too, Jack.”

“They finally let you come.”

“Katherine pulled some strings. I’m sorry I couldn’t pay your bail. I don’t have that kind of money and Daddy was pretty angry. He turned me down flat when I asked for a loan.”

“It’s okay,” Jack said. “I didn’t expect you to.”

She played with the cord on the phone, winding it around her fingers, watching her fingers, so she didn’t have to look at Jack.

Jack tapped on the glass, to draw her attention. “What’s wrong, Baby?”

“I’m pregnant.”

Jack’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, Lizzie,” he said. “How did that happen?”

She smiled “You were there, dummy.”

He laughed. “I know that. I thought you were on the pill.”

“Yeah, well, the pill is only ninety-nine percent effective, even less efficient if you forget to take one.”

“Oh. Are you happy about it? You look so sad.”

“I’m sad because I’m going to have to raise him or her without a father.”

“Maybe I’ll get a light sentence.”

“Maybe,” she said.

He said, “What’s next for us? Will you wait for me to get out?”

She hesitated, skirting the question. Then she replied, “I’m going back to school. Katherine said she‘d promote me if I get my paralegal. It won’t take that long.”

“What about the baby?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“What about us, Lizzie? You didn’t answer the question.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I thought I knew you, but after you left me in the alley…”

“I said I was sorry about that,” he snapped.

“It doesn’t change the fact that you left me, and that poor man, too, who died, by the way, so that you could get a fix.”

“Please. I need you.”

“You’re supposed to safeguard the things you love,” she said.

He fell silent. Lizzie waited, but it seemed they both had run out of things to say.

Finally, Lizzie said, “I have to go now. Katherine drove me. I’ll be at the hearing.”

“Thanks for that,” he said, the comment teeming with sarcasm.

Lizzie shook her head. “Goodbye, Jack.”

She rose to leave. Jack blew her a kiss as she walked out the door.

***

Beth squeezed the bars with all her might. The memory still was so vivid in her mind it was as if it were yesterday. She slapped the bars and started pacing.

She had seen in Jack the potential for great things, but all he saw was a cast-off son of a no good thief, drug abuser, and murderer. He hadn’t been able to overcome the image and had allowed it to consume him.

She had hoped prison would tame Jack, but given her current circumstances, that obviously wasn’t true.

How could Jack have fallen back into trouble so soon? Hadn’t the prospect of being a father even entered his mind? Or had his lack of self-esteem driven him so low?

She hadn’t told Timmy much about his father. He knew he had one, of course, but he imagined a hero, not someone whose casual disregard for others resulted in this chaos.

“Hey! You wanna leave some of that concrete for the next jailbird. I’m trying to sleep here.”

Beth whirled to find a scrawny-looking woman, more a girl actually, sitting up on the edge of a bunk. Her long, disheveled hair stuck straight up in spots, pushed up by the headband she wore around her head. Strands of beads and feathers hung from the headband. Her Native American costume was askew so that the side seams of her skirt showed in the front. Half her blouse extended out from her waistband, and her heavy makeup dripped down her cheeks.

“What happened to you?” Beth asked.

“I got in a fight,” the girl answered. “I’m Angela, but you can call me Angie, or Ang. Everyone does.”

“I’m Beth.”

“Just Beth, or is that short for something?”

Beth nodded her head. “It’s short for Elizabeth. My mother calls me that, but nobody else does.”

“Mothers tend to do that.” She looked Beth over, noting her neat appearance. “What’d you do, forget to pay your taxes or something?”

“Something,” Beth said.

“I get it. You don’t wanna tell me. It’s all cool. Being how you just met me and all.”

Beth noted the hurt expression on her cellmate’s face. She sighed and sat down on her cot. “I didn’t do anything.” Angie gave her a wry grin. “I’m serious,” Beth said. “I’ve been framed.”

Angie busted out in laughter. Beth couldn’t help but laugh at her cliché. When the laughter was under control, Angie asked again. “What’d you really do?”

“Fell in love with the wrong guy.”

“Damn, I didn’t realize that crime came with jail time.”

Beth smiled. “It does if your lover plants his stash on you.”

Angie’s mouth fell open. “Creep, scoundrel, good-for-nothing bastard.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“Pardon my asking, but are you one of those rich girls who fall for the badasses?”

“Apparently,” Beth said. “Funny thing, though, I thought I was over him—until he showed up at my car flashing those beautiful eyes of his.”

“Aw, the eyes will do it every time.”

Beth nodded. “We have a kid together, so it’s hard just to walk away.”

Angie’s eyes misted. “That’s nice of you. My mom never gave my dad a chance. I don’t even know what he looks like.”

“I’m sorry. I do want Timmy to know his dad, but not as he is now. I know it hurts, but maybe your mom did the right thing.”

“That’s what she says. Anyhow, I’m almost eighteen, and then I’m going to find him.”

“How old are you?” Beth asked, surprised that a minor was in here.

“I’m seventeen.”

“Why aren’t you in juvy?”

“I told the cops I was eighteen so they wouldn’t call my mom. She has enough to worry about without me screwing up again.”

Beth eyed her again and asked, “Why the costume?”

Angie grinned. “Me and my friends went to a concert. Stampin Navajos.”

“You stamped Navajos?”

Angie laughed. “No. That’s the name of the band, Stampin Navajos.”

“Okay, now I get it. So, whom did you fight with?”

Angie grinned again. “The store owner at AJ Liquors. He wouldn’t sell me some beer, so I got mad and threw the beer through the glass door.” She shrugged. “He called the cops, and here I am.”

“What are you going to do when they figure out you’re a minor?”

“I don’t know.” She frowned. “I guess I’m one of those kids who can’t shake trouble like I’m a giant magnet or something.” She spread her arms, holding them high to the ceiling. “Here I am, trouble, just waiting for you with open arms.”

Ironically, Beth understood what she was saying.

An outer door slid open, and both women looked up, watching and waiting to see who would materialize.

John came into sight, looked at Beth and the girl. “Am I interrupting something?”

Beth smiled. “It’s about time. Did you get the bail?”

John knit his brow together, held both hands out, palms up. “Did you have so little faith?”

Beth frowned. “I’m realistic.”

“Are you ready to go?”

“Don’t you know it!” She rose and, on impulse, bent over and hugged Angie. “Take care.”

Angie managed a cursory smile, wiped a tear from her eye, nodded her head, and said, “I’ll try.”

Beth held out her hand to John. “Do you have a card with you?”

John reached into his jacket pocket, extracted a leather case and handed Beth a business card. She gave it to Angie. “Call your mom, and then call this number and ask for me, Elizabeth Reynolds. They’ll put you through to my desk. We’ll see you get some help.”

“You’re a lawyer?”

“No, but I sure know a lot of them.”

Angie nodded. “Thanks.”

Beth walked through the open bars, winced as they slid shut. She turned and took a last look at Angie. “Call.”

Beth shuddered in her jail cell. Despite the wool blanket they had given her, which itched like crazy, she was freezing. She turned over and pulled the blanket higher. It did no good at all. Grunting, she flung her legs over the side of the cot and sat up.

Giving up on sleep, she got up off the cot and wandered around the cell. Anger consumed her as she paced back and forth. Every time she came to the side of the cell, she smacked the bars with an open hand. She should be home right now tucking her little Timmy into bed.

The thought of Timmy calmed her, and a small smile came to her lips as she visualized their nightly routine: dinner, a game of Chutes and Ladders, a half hour of television—that would most likely be Thomas the Tank Engine. Timmy loved that show. Then a bedtime story, a giant kiss and hug, and then off to slumber land.

She took a deep breath and exhaled, wondering if Katherine would remember Timmy liked peas, and he always got a cookie after dinner—his reward for eating all his vegetables—just one, though. If she knew Timmy, he would try to outsmart Katherine. He might convince her he only had to eat half his vegetables, and skip his meatloaf altogether. Katherine had no experience with children, hadn’t even been around them as a child. Would she fall for his angelic persuasions? Her smile grew as she envisioned her son, the negotiator, as her father liked to call him, bartering for an hour of television. What would he be willing to give up tonight?

A tear slipped down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly. She would not let Jack bring her to tears. She had purged him from her system five years ago. Had she? Really? Hadn’t she slipped easily into the role of Lizzie again? Timmy hadn’t been on her mind then, or surely she would have pushed Jack away.

When Beth first met Jack, she saw a lonely, underprivileged man—desperate for someone to tame him. She knew her father hadn’t liked him, but that only spurred her on. She had been determined to turn Jack into a better person, and it was working—at least until their trip to New York.

Beth walked to the side of the cell and clung to the bars. She allowed the memory to come with full force.

***

At first, it had been great. It was the first time she and Jack had been on a plane together, and she had sprung for first-class seats. She snuggled into Jack’s shoulder as the plane took off. Jack kissed the top of her head. He didn’t deserve her love. He knew that. Truthfully, he was afraid of going home. He hadn’t been back since he was a kid. He couldn’t have been more than ten the last time he had seen his father. He was fourteen when his mother had taken him and run off to San Francisco, hoping to flee not only her past but also the trouble into which Jack was getting.

He sighed and shifted his weight. Lizzie looked up at him. “You okay?”

He nodded. “I’m nervous. It’s been so long, what if I don’t recognize him?”

She laid her head back down. “You will. How could you not recognize your father?”

“I don’t know if finding him is important. He ran out on us when we needed him the most.” He shifted again, and Lizzie sat up.

“Is that why you got into so much trouble?”

“It was part of it, but it also had to do with the way we lived. I didn’t go to some fancy private school where the only thing expected of me was getting an A. Life in my neighborhood was tough. There, surviving until your next birthday was how we lived.”

She could hear the bitterness in his voice. She hated when he sounded that way as if it were her fault his life had been so tough. She could only imagine what it had been like, but she knew plenty of kids who didn’t have the fairytale childhood. They didn’t pass the blame. They just worked harder to overcome it.

She pushed her irritation aside, straightened in her seat, and fixed a big grin on her face. “Well, it’s all in the past now. You have so much of which to be proud. He’ll see that.”

They fell into silence together. Not the comfortable silence they usually felt, but a strained one. Lizzie laid her head back against the seat. Soon the lull of the airplane worked its magic, rocking her to sleep.

Jack watched her sleep. He loved watching her chest rise and fall, liked watching the way her mouth twitched as she drifted into the various stages of the dream cycle.

He picked up her hand, cradled it against his chest, and then kissed each of her fingers. “I love you, Lizzie,” he said.

She mumbled indiscernible words in her sleep that made Jack smile. “I’ll make you proud, Lizzie, no matter what.”

The first place they looked for him was their old apartment. Jack didn’t expect to find him there, but it was worth a shot.

The taxi pulled up to the curb. Lizzie handed the driver two twenties, and they got out.

“You don’t want me to wait?” he asked.

Lizzie looked at Jack for confirmation.

“Naw, we might be here awhile.” The driver pocketed the bills and sped off.

They stood for a moment, surveying the apartment building. “Wow,” Lizzie said. The building was rundown and overgrown. Broken bicycles littered the yard and overturned trashcans littered the street—spilling garbage everywhere. Drying laundry hung from numerous windowsills. An emaciated dog stood tethered to a post that poked out from the ground. He lifted his head, gave them a cursory glance, and laid his head back down. Loud music poured out of several windows, causing Lizzie to cover her ears.

Jack looked at her and grinned. “Home-sweet-home,” he said, and Lizzie grimaced.

This life of poverty was another world to Lizzie. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she had never experienced this kind of deprivation. Sure, she had read about it in books, seen it in movies, but she had never given it a second thought.

She squeezed Jack’s hand. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I came all this way. I’m not backing out now.”

They made their way to the door. Jack opened it, and Lizzie stepped inside the lobby, gasping as she saw the interior. The lobby walls in her building were pristine white, not a speck of dirt or smudge on them. These walls covered with graffiti was sometimes artful, sometimes distasteful. On one wall profanity seemed to be the theme. It almost appeared as if people had an obscenity contest. Another wall displayed a beautiful woman dressed in what looked to be a ceremonial costume of some kind.

“It’s beautiful,” Lizzie said.

Jack took her hand and led her to a far corner. He bent down, looking for something. He found it, pointed it out, and Lizzie bent down to look at it. The painting was of an eagle flying over an ocean. The sun shone in the background, magically making the ocean’s waves sparkle. It was beautiful. She almost felt like she was flying with the Eagle. She looked at the initials, JC. “Did you paint this?”

He nodded. “I painted it on the day we left. The eagle represents my freedom, the sun—my hope, and the water—my peace. It’s everything I craved on that day and thought I would find in San Francisco.”

She looked over at his profile. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

He turned and grinned at her. Squeezing her hand, he said, “I found you.”

He leaned over and kissed her. When he pulled back, she turned and looked at the painting again. She reached out and ran her fingers over it. “It’s beautiful. I had no idea you could paint like this. Why aren’t you doing something with this talent?”

He shrugged. “It hardly pays the bills.” He stood and, guiding her by the hand, led her past the elevator to the staircase.

She noticed an out of order sign on the elevator, for which Jack gave a cursory nod. “It’s always out of order. I hope you’re up for a climb. We were on the eighth floor.”

She looked up, then forlornly back at the elevator. “I don’t mind,” she said. “But I wonder what you’re hoping to find up there? You said your dad ran out on you, so he’s not likely to be here.”

“I know, but the people around might know where he’s hanging these days.”

When they reached the sixth floor, they saw a little boy about six-years-old sitting on the landing. Lizzie smiled at him, and he flipped her off. Jack laughed. “Welcome to my world, Miss Reynolds.”

Lizzie chuckled. It had been funny seeing the middle finger sticking up straight-as-an-arrow on such a little boy. They finally arrived on the eighth floor, where they saw three children playing kickball up and down the hallway. Expecting the worst, Lizzie prepared for vulgarity. To her surprise, a little girl—a spectator of the game—smiled at her and held out an Oreo cookie. She hesitated for a moment, and then took the cookie. “I’ll save it for later,” she said, “after I’ve had my dinner.” She put the cookie in her pocket and they traveled on.

Jack stopped in front of apartment 809. “This is it.” He rapped on the door. A man with a raspy voice screamed from the other side of the door, “Who the hell is it?”

Jack and Lizzie looked at each other. Lizzie grimaced. “I hope that’s not your dad.”

Jack laughed and shouted through the door, “My name is Jack Cole. I used to live here.”

“Big goddamned deal. I live here now. Get the hell away.”

“Maybe we’d better go,” Lizzie said.

Jack shook his head. “I’m looking for my father, Walter Cole.”

“I don’t’ know no Walter Cole. I said go away, and I mean it. I’ve got a shotgun aimed at that door, and I swear I’ll blow your ass away if you don’t turn and leave right now.”

A door behind them swung open. They both turned and stared into the face of a woman who appeared to have been beautiful at one time. “I know Wally.” She nodded at the door. “He ain’t kiddin’ about the shotgun.”

Jack and Lizzie stepped away from the door, crossing the hallway to stand in front of the woman. She wore a long violet gown and sandals that sparkled. Her hair was black, speckled in spots with gray, pulled up and secured at the back with a clip. Her eyes, heavily caked with makeup, were green and wild. She held a cigarette in one hand and a glass of dark-colored liquor in the other. She was thin and gaunt as if she hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a while. Lizzie felt empathy for her. She had probably picked up the gown at some thrift shop and was making a last-ditch effort to hold on to youthful pride.

“Do you know where I can find him?” Jack asked.

“He don’t live here anymore,” she said. “But you can probably find him playing cards down at the dog.”

“The dog?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, Vinnie Lampole’s place, The Diggity Dog, down on 5th street. He has a game room in the back. That’s where Wally plays cards.” She looked Jack up and down, a lascivious look on her face. She smiled. “So—you’re Wally’s boy. Damn, boy, you grew up beautiful.”

“Did I know you before, when I lived here?”

She cackled. “Little ole Jack,” she said. “I used to babysit you when you was in diapers. Then your mama took you away and broke my Wally’s heart. He ain’t been the same since.”

Jack nodded recognition setting in. “You’re Ronnie,” he said.

She cackled. “That’s right.”

“You look a bit different.”

She laughed a raspy smoker’s laugh. “Shit, boy—it’s been at least ten years.” She waved a hand in front of her face. “I does the best I can to stay young, but Mama Nature ain’t always hard to fool.”

Jack held out his hand for a handshake, but Ronnie opened her arms and threw them around Jack. The liquid from the cup sloshed over the side, spattering the front of Lizzie’s blouse. Instinctively, she gasped. Ronnie and Jack both turned to look at her.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Ronnie said. “Come on in and I’ll clean you up.”

“No, really,” Lizzie said. “It’s okay. There’s hardly a spot at all.” She took out a handkerchief from her pocketbook and started dabbing at it. “See, all better.” She smiled for effect.

Jack stepped away from Ronnie. “Thanks for your help. We’d better get going.” He reached out and touched Lizzie’s elbow, guiding her toward the stairs.

“You’re welcome,” she called after them. “If you find Wally, tell him I’m a missin’ him and my bed’s cold.”

Lizzie blushed. Jack smiled at her and waved to Ronnie. “I will.”

They nearly ran down the steps, laughter spilling from them. When they reached the lobby, Lizzie bolted for the door, pushed herself through it, and took a huge gulp of fresh air. She said, “My God, there has to be a century of cigarette smoke clinging to those walls.”

“At least,” Jack agreed. “Come on,” he said, pulling her down the street. “It’s not that far from here.”

They walked along the street, passing kids hanging out, mostly doing nothing. Nobody bothered them, despite the fact they stuck out like a sore thumb. “Hold on a minute.” She pulled out some money and gave it to a little boy. “There’s a dog tethered a little ways back. Will you take this money and pick up some food for him? He’s starved.”

The boy snatched the money and ran. Lizzie, surprised, asked Jack, “Will he do it?”

Jack shrugged. “Maybe, but do you realize how many dogs are starving around here?”

“I don’t want to think about it,” she said.

Jack shook his head and frowned. “That’s part of the problem. Nobody ever wants to think of it.”

Lizzie resisted the temptation to argue. Did he blame people like her family for the ignorance of these underprivileged. It didn’t take money to open a book and educate oneself. Nobody told them to put a needle in their arm for the pleasure of momentary happiness. She shook her head and kept walking.

They came to a park, and Lizzie couldn’t help but compare it to the parks in San Francisco. Unlike San Francisco parks, which had bright green lawns stretching across wide, open areas spotted with occasional picnic benches, this one had tufts of brown grass trying desperately to grow. The few picnic benches she saw were old and weathered. A group of teens sat around one. A girl lay upon the table and the boys, who surrounded her, took turns kissing her. One of them opened the buttons of her jeans and slid his hand down inside, while another pushed up her shirt, exposing her breast. Curious about the display of open affection, Lizzie couldn’t help but stare.

Jack pulled her faster. “Voyeurism might get you a ride to the coroner’s office in this neighborhood,” he said. “Or worse—you could end up on top of that table.”

“Are they raping her?” Lizzie asked, shocked.

“Not likely, but it’s always possible.”

“We should do something.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said, saddened by the fact she had witnessed it. He loved Lizzie and wanted to protect her from all the evils of the world. Suddenly, he knew it had been a mistake to bring her. All her life someone had protected her from this sort of evil — why had he been the one to shatter her innocence. He stopped and pulled her against him. “We should go home,” he said.

“No. We came all this way to find your father. We’re not going home until we do.”

He stepped back, opened his arms to display his surroundings. “I shouldn’t have brought you to this. I had no right to subject you to this kind of filth.”

“I’m not a child, Jack. I know what kind of things go on in this world.” She began to walk again. “Let’s get going. It’s getting dark.”

Jack sighed and stepped into place beside her. He placed a protective arm around her shoulder. It wasn’t a guarantee, but in most cases nobody would mess with someone else’s property.

They came to The Diggity Dog and stopped, staring at the old door, which was in desperate need of painting. The neon Diggity Dog sign displayed in the window had three bulbs burned out, so it read, The Digty og, instead.

Jack’s heart started thumping. He said, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Lizzie squeezed his hand. “Sure you can.” She reached out and pushed open the door. Laughter, cigarette smoke, and loud music poured out. She coughed, and stepped through the door, pulling Jack behind her.

A scantily clad waitress greeted them, smiling a huge, welcoming smile. “Welcome to The Diggety Dog. Sit wherever you like,” she said, handing them a couple of menus.

Jack started to protest, but Lizzie silenced him. “I’m hungry,” she said.

“You want to eat here?”

“No, but we’re here, I’m hungry, and we want information—information we might not get if we just waltz in and ask.” He frowned. She smiled and said, “Just leave it to me.”

They sat in the nearest booth, ready to bolt if need be.

The waitress came back, carrying two glasses of water. She set them down in front of them. “I recommend our signature dog, The Diggety Dog,” she said. “I guarantee you’ve never tasted anything like it.”

They both nodded. She took their menus from them and left without writing down their orders.

“You think she’ll remember?” Jack asked.

“Everyone probably gets the signature dog,” Lizzie said.

She returned to the table with a tray laden with condiments, which she set on the table between them. “Be right back,” she said and left again.

Lizzie and Jack stared at the tray incredulously. “People put this stuff on a hot dog,” Lizzie said. She picked up a whole pickle and bit into it.

Jack said, “That’s supposed to be for the dog.”

Lizzie shook her head. “No way am I putting a whole pickle on my dog.” She picked up a spoon, examined the contents, and wrinkled her nose. “Sour cream?”

The waitress returned with two plates and set them down. Steam escaped from the ends of the oversized hot dog. Resting next to the dogs was a generous scoop of potato salad.

“Eat, drink, and be merry,” she said and smiled. “Can I get you drinks?”

Lizzie shook her head and pointed at her water glass. Jack ordered a beer.

She was just returning to the table with Jack’s beer when Lizzie took her first bite. “Oh, my God,” Lizzie said. “This is the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted.”

The waitress beamed as if she were personally responsible for its taste. “Everyone has that same reaction.”

They devoured the hot dogs and then sat staring at each other. “What now?” Jack asked.

“We fish for information,” Lizzie said.

When the waitress returned with their check, and asked if she could get anything else for them, Jack tested the waters. “I’m looking for someone. I was hoping you might have seen him.”

“Who?” she asked with a tentative smile on her lips. Her hands began to clear their plates.

“My father. Walter Cole.”

Her hand stilled. Jack and Lizzie looked at each other. Jack raised an eyebrow. Lizzie gave an imperceptible nod in the direction of the waitress.

Jack leaned forward on his elbows. “You know my father?”

She set the plates back down and nodded. She looked around to see if anybody was watching, and then slid into the booth next to Jack. “Don’t say his name too loudly around here, and don’t go around announcing you’re his kid.”

Jack shook his head. “Why not?”

She glanced at the backroom. Jack followed her gaze. He supposed they dealt cards in that room. “He owes a lot of money to the boss, who, by the way, doesn’t care who pays it up, if you know what I mean.”

Jack did know, but Lizzie stared blankly.

The waitress smiled at her innocence. “You two best be getting along.”

She stood, picked the plates back up again, and began to walk away. “Try Sing Sing. I heard some talk about him being there. I don’t know if it’s true.” She walked away.

Lizzie looked at Jack. “What do we do now?”

He shook his head. “We go back to the hotel.”

He stood and threw some money on the table. Taking Lizzie by the arm, he led her out the door. The waitress stared at their departing backs, shaking her head.

They found a cab easily enough and headed back to the hotel. Jack slammed his fists together, ran his hands through his hair, and then sat in silence. The taxi driver looked at him in the rearview mirror, keeping a watchful eye on him, relieved when they finally pulled up to the hotel.

Jack bolted from the cab without waiting for Lizzie.

Lizzie paid the driver, pausing as he asked, “Are you going to be all right, Miss?”

“I’ll be fine,” Lizzie said. “He’s just had some disappointing news. That’s all.”

Reluctantly, the driver sped off. Lizzie made her way to the room, where she found Jack packing. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Packing, can’t you see that?”

“Don’t snap at me, Jack. I’m not the one who let you down.”

She crossed to him, pulling him down beside her on the bed. “We’re not leaving,” she said firmly. “Not until you have the answers you’re looking for.”

She could see tears forming in his eyes, but knew he was too tough to let them spill. She pulled him against her. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the prison and check it out. Until then, don’t jump to conclusions.”

She felt him relax against her. “I don’t deserve you.”

She grinned. “This is true.” He chuckled, and the sound made her glad she was there.

The next morning, Jack wouldn’t eat when room service delivered the cart Lizzie ordered. “Eat,” Lizzie said.

He shook his head. “I can’t. My stomach is in knots.”

“It’s going to be a long day, and who knows when we’ll get a chance to eat again.” She sat down and began eating. Moments later, Jack joined her. He ate a bagel and downed some coffee and juice.

“Eat something else,” she said, but he shook his head. She sighed. “Okay, then. Let’s get going.”

They rented a car through the hotel concierge and drove the thirty miles to the correctional facility. Lizzie gasped when she saw the massive structure that lay before them. A chill ran up her spine as she thought of anyone living there. She wondered what it would feel like locked up behind those walls.

They approached the building. Jack squeezed her hand. “Do you want to wait in the car?”

She shook her head, and they continued, approaching the gate much quicker than she had expected.

A guard greeted them. “What are your names and your purpose?”

“I’m here to see my father, Walter Cole,” Jack said. He took a deep breath, hoping he would tell them they had no inmate by that name.

The guard eyed them, rested his eyes on Lizzie’s bag. “You won’t be able to take that in there, Miss.”

“I’ll lock it in the car,” Jack said. Lizzie took out her cash, identification, and her credit cards, stuffing them all into her pockets. Jack took the bag from her and dashed off.

She fidgeted as the guard repeatedly glanced at her. Finally, Jack returned, breathless from running.

The guard instructed them on the procedures, and then gave them permission to enter.

Another guard sat at a window checking people in. They were fifth in line, so they nervously waited.

“Is this your first time here?” a woman behind them asked.

Lizzie and Jack turned and looked at her. She was an older woman, hair ratty and gray, eyes cloudy with age. She squinted when she smiled at them.

“Is it that obvious?” Lizzie asked.

The old woman laughed. “I recognize the nervous twitter. I had the same butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling when I first came.”

“We’re here to visit Jack’s father,” Lizzie said. She blushed as Jack looked scornfully at her.

“It’s all right, dear,” she said to Jack. “There’s no reason to be embarrassed. We all have a loved one in here. Nobody’s judging you.”

“Next,” the guard called from behind the window.

Jack turned and stepped up. Lizzie followed.

They presented their photo identification and waited as the guard looked up Walter Cole’s information on her computer. After verifying Walter was eligible for visitors, the guard handed them two visitor badges and instructed them to have a seat until all the visitors were cleared to enter.

They chose seats near the window. Moments later, the old woman came and sat down beside them. “It’s not that bad,” she said, continuing their conversation as if they never had been interrupted. “I’ve been coming here every week for nearly six years. I ride the bus in from the city. My son is here,” she added, almost as a fact of pride.

“What did he do?” Lizzie asked.

“Armed robbery,” she said. “Times are tough, and Jimmie just couldn’t handle it.” She smiled, and Lizzie could see gaps in her mouth where teeth had rotted and either fallen or been taken out.

“May I ask why you don’t just move closer to the prison and save yourself the long bus ride?”

“I enjoy my outings. I’m an old woman and don’t get out much anymore.” She smiled coyly as if her age were some secret. “What did he do?” she asked.

“Jack’s father?” Lizzie asked, and the woman nodded her head. “We don’t know. We only just found out he’s here. Jack hasn’t seen him in several years.”

“Ah, a family reunion then, how nice.” She smiled again, and Lizzie wondered how she could be so happy to spend her days coming here.

A loud buzzer sounded then, making Lizzie jump.

“It’s okay, Dear,” the woman said. She laid a hand over one of Lizzie’s. It was rough as if this woman spent a lot of time working with her hands. “That just means it’s time to go in.” She stood and wandered over to where a line had already begun to form. They followed her, falling into line behind her.

When the last of the visitors were in the visitation room, the doors shut. Lizzie jumped, suddenly feeling trapped.

Another door opened and, one-by-one, prisoners began to enter. Lizzie watched with a tearful eye as the woman practically ran into her son’s arms.

She was surprised to see how many children were present. It was hard to believe after watching these men interact with their children, that any of them could have done something so serious they deserved incarceration in a maximum-security prison.

Jack stiffened beside her as a tall, dark-haired man who, aside from the streaks of gray, bore a striking resemblance to Jack entered. Obviously, this was Walter Cole. Lizzie squeezed his hand, offering her support.

He approached them, and they rose to greet him. There was no tearful reunion here, no words of gratitude for making the long, arduous journey to see him, no warm smile. Just, “I have to say I was quite surprised when they told me you were here,” Walter said. “How’d you find me?”

Jack shrugged. “I asked around.”

“Why?”

“I had to know what became of you, and why you left us.”

“Does it matter that much?”

They sat down as Jack pondered the question. Most of his life people pitied him. There goes Jack Cole, poor boy—his father ran out on him, you know. Poor Jack has no father to teach him right from wrong. Poor Jack, no father to play catch with or bounce a basketball. On the surface, he had shrugged it off—deep down, though, he melted every time he heard or felt someone’s pity. “Yeah, it does.”

Walter stared into his son’s gray-green eyes, a feature he had inherited from his mother. He hadn’t wanted to be a father. Leticia had tricked him into marriage, or at least that’s how Walter looked at it. Walter wasn’t meant to be tied down. He was footloose and fancy-free, as his mother had always put it. Impregnating Leticia had been an accident of fate, although Leticia said it was God’s way of intervening. Walter didn’t believe in God. He prided himself on the fact that he stuck it out as long as he had.

“I didn’t ask to be a father. Leticia wanted a kid, not me. I didn’t want walls around me. I wanted to be a free spirit. You know what I mean?”

Jack laughed at the irony. Several people turned to look at him but soon turned back to their families. “And now you have all the freedom you want,” he said sarcastically. “Look at these walls.” Jack spread his arms out. “Do these walls make you happy?”

Walther leaned forward as if he didn’t want anyone else to hear what he had to say. “Look,” he said, “I don’t know what you expected to find, but—”

“I was hoping to find a father filled with regret. But all I got was you,” he said accusingly. “What’d you do to get in here?”

Walter sat back up and shrugged. “I got in a bar fight, killed a man with my knife.”

“Why?”

He shrugged again. “Hell, if I remember. I was high at the time.”

Jack shook his head and rose from the bench, putting an end to the incongruous visit. He said, “Come on, Lizzie. I found what I was looking for.”

They left Walter Cole sitting there, looking like a dejected soul. Jack didn’t glance back, but Lizzie did. She would have sworn she saw a tear slip down his cheek.

They returned to San Francisco, and Jack seemed to go through some sort of metamorphosis right before Lizzie’s eyes. He became moody, snapping at Lizzie at every opportunity. They started hanging out in bars and pool halls, refusing to go home—even when Lizzie pleaded. Jack started getting into fistfights nearly every night. Most nights Lizzie took him home, and he passed out before she could get him in the apartment. One night, when he and Lizzie were supposed to be celebrating Jack getting a new client, Jack said, “Oh, what’s the use, I come from trash anyway.”

Lizzie, angry, had said, “Snap out of this, Jack. You are not trash just because your father is in prison.”

It hadn’t done any good. He simply looked her in the eye and said, “Even your dad thinks so.” He walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

By Christmastime, Jack began to take on a hollowed-out look. He barely ate, and Lizzie threatened to force feed him like a baby if he didn’t start eating on his own.

On New Year’s Eve, a man came to the apartment. He scared Lizzie with his constant stares, as they waited for Jack, to finish showering. When Jack came out, he gave Lizzie a cursory kiss and told her not to wait up.

“Where are you going?” she asked, but Jack flew out the door without acknowledging her question.

Her parents were having their annual New Year’s Eve ball, so she donned a pretty dress and went to drown her sorrows.

Her father, keen to his daughter’s moods, pressured her for information, but she held a firm lip. She danced the night away, pretending to be happy for her parents’ sake, and stuffed her face with exotic foods. She spent the night in her old bedroom, and when she returned to her apartment, she found Jack passed out on the sofa.

Two weeks after that, she convinced him to take her dancing to celebrate their anniversary. She was disappointed when he pulled the car into the parking lot of Cue’s Alley. “I thought you were taking me out to dine and dance,” she said.

“You can dance right here.”

“But Jack, tonight’s supposed to be special,” she protested.

“Only a moment, Baby, I promise. Then we’ll be on our way.”

To Lizzie’s surprise, they didn’t go inside. Instead, Jack led her around to the back of the pool hall. She gasped when the man who had come to the apartment stepped out of the shadows. “It’s okay, Baby,” Jack said.

“What’s he doing here?” She looked around. “For that matter, what are we doing here?”

“Sammy and I have a little business. That’s all.”

Sammy pulled out a package and held it out to Jack. For only a moment, Jack hesitated. Then he snatched the package from him as if Sammy might change his mind and rescind the offer. Then he shoved a wad of money at him. No sooner had the exchange taken place, than a high beamed flashlight hit them square in the eyes.

“What’s going on out here?” a man called.

Lizzie saw Sammy pull out a gun, screamed as he pulled the trigger and saw the man with the flashlight collapse to the ground. Sammy took off on a run. Jack followed behind him. “Run, Lizzie!” he yelled.

Lizzie stood frozen in place, unable to move, unable to run, and unable to believe what had just happened. Finally, instinct took over, and Lizzie ran to the side of the man. Dropping to her knees, she began to assess him.

Having heard the gunshot, passersby began to congregate. “Someone call 911,” she shouted. Having little medical knowledge, she began to do the only thing she could think to do. She began CPR.

Moments later, three police cars arrived, flanked by an ambulance. Lizzie stepped back as the paramedics took over.

She stood a short distance away, watching as several people pointed her out to the police. Then her body began to shake uncontrollably, as they made their way to her.

“I’m Officer Simons, Miss. Can I get some information from you?”

Lizzie nodded and looked him in the eye with her tear-filled ones.

“Can I see some ID, please?”

Lizzie looked around, confused. “I must have dropped it.”

The officer began to look, too. Spotting a handbag a few feet away, he asked, “Is that yours?”

Lizzie followed his glance, saw the bag lying on the ground and nodded.

He retrieved the bag and handed it to Lizzie. When she reached in to extract her wallet, she pulled out a large package of white powder, instead. “What the—”

“Hold it right there,” the officer said. She heard a gun click and looked up to see five pistols pointed at her.

“Hand it over,” he said.

Lizzie shook her head. “That’s not mine.”

He took the handbag from her. “I need some ID.”

She nodded. “In my wallet.”

He extracted her driver’s license from her wallet and handed the bag to his partner.

“Miss Reynolds, I’m going to have to take you in.”

Lizzie looked stupefied, shaking her head again. “Why? I told you that’s not mine. I’ve never seen that before.”

“Turn around please. You’re under arrest for possession of an illegal substance and attempted homicide,” he said.

Lizzie looked down at the package. “That’s not mine!” she cried.

He read her rights to her, did a brief inspection for weapons, and led her to a police cruiser, locking her inside. Lizzie sat in the back seat, waiting and watching as the paramedics loaded the man into the back of the ambulance and took off, sirens blaring.

Officer Simons and his partner got into the front seat and wordlessly drove off.

When they arrived at the police station, they took her to an interrogation room and allowed her to make a phone call. She sat staring at the phone, unsure of whom to call.

“Are you going to make the call?” Officer Simons asked.

Lizzie nodded. She picked up the phone and dialed Katherine Winters.

“Don’t say a word until I get there,” Katherine said.

She was there in record speed, rushing into the room with a flurry of questions. “Did they read you your rights? How long have they kept you here? Did you say anything before they read your rights to you?”

Lizzie shook her head at each question. She looked at Katherine with panic-stricken eyes. “I didn’t do anything, Katherine.”

Katherine looked at her with indecision, trying to decide if she should treat her as a friend or a client. Lizzie started to cry, making Katherine’s decision for her. She ran to her side, pulled her into an embrace, soothing her hair with maternal instinct. “It’s okay. We’ll figure it all out.”

When Lizzie pulled herself together, Katherine nodded toward Officer Simons. “Okay. We’re ready to begin.”

Lizzie told them what happened. Officer Simons nodded appropriately, as the story unfolded. When she came to the part where the officer picked up the package, Katherine interrupted.

“Wait a minute. My client never actually had the package on her?”

“It was in her purse.”

“Which was not in her possession at the time.”

“It was lying on the ground near to where she stood, and nobody else was there.”

Lizzie shook her head. “No, Katherine. I didn’t have it.” Her eyes went wide. “The last time I saw it…” She stopped. If she told the truth, Jack might get in trouble. On the other hand, a man was at the hospital fighting for his life, or possibly dead for all she knew. She shook her head. “I don’t remember exactly. I just know I never touched that package until I pulled it out of my purse.”

Katherine looked Lizzie square in the eyes. She turned toward Officer Simons. “May I have a moment of privacy with my client?” He rose and walked to the door. “Don’t forget to turn off the microphone,” she said.

He shook his head and exited. When the door closed, Katherine asked Lizzie, “Whom are you protecting?”

“Nobody.”

“Don’t lie to me. I see it in your eyes.”

She demurred. “I can’t do it,” she said.

Katherine sighed. “Well, it doesn’t matter anyhow. They will test for fingerprints. They will see who else touched that package.”

Beth bit her lower lip. She was on the verge of speaking when she changed her mind. Let them find out on their own. At least she wouldn’t be the one to betray Jack.

Katherine looked up at the window that separated the interrogation room from the squad room, signaling an end to their conversation. Officer Simon reentered the room carrying a couple sheets of paper.

“When you fingerprint the package, you’ll see my client’s prints aren’t the only ones on it. Let’s just save her a lot of troubles and cut her loose.”

“We already ran them. We believe her story. Your client is free to go.” He slid a picture in front of her. “We’d like your help, though,” he said, “in exchange for your cooperation.” He stared at her for a minute then said, “We found these prints on the package. He’s a known drug dealer. Do you know where we can find this man?”

Lizzie looked at the picture, recognized the man as Sammy, the one they had met in the alley behind the pool hall. She shook her head. “He came to the apartment once, and then we saw him in the alley, but I don’t know anything about him, except he’s the one who had the gun tonight.”

“His name is Samuel Leon, and he’s into some heavy shit.” He slid another photo in front of her. “How about this man?”

Lizzie gasped. “That’s Jack.”

He nodded. “Yes, Jack Cole. Do you know where we can find him?”

Lizzie sat silently. She could not turn on him.

Officer Simons sighed. “Okay. You’re free to go.”

He got up and left the room. Back in the squad room, he spoke to an officer. “When she leaves, tail her. She’s bound to lead us to Jack Cole.”

Lizzie and Katherine left together. “You need a ride?”

Lizzie nodded. “Jack drove us.”

They rode to the apartment in silence. “Do you want me to come up with you?”

Lizzie shook her head. “I’m okay. It’s over now, right?”

“You’ll have to testify when they find Jack and Samuel. It’s part of the deal for letting you go. There will be some probation, but that’s not a big deal.”

She sighed. “How am I going to do that?”

She opened the door, thanked Katherine for her help, and dragged herself up to her apartment.

When she turned on the light, she screamed, “Jack!”

“Hey, Baby. You all right?” He embraced her.

She fought against him, torn between rage and relief. “No thanks to you, Jack.” He held her firmly until she quit struggling. She breathed in his scent, which didn’t smell at all like Jack, but of sweat, back alleys, and cigarettes. She beat on his chest, tears flowing down her cheek. “I can’t believe you left me like that.”

“I thought you were right behind me.”

“I couldn’t leave that poor man to die. What have you gotten yourself into?”

“I’m sorry, Baby. I panicked. I didn’t know Sammy was bringing a gun.”

“Who is he?” she asked.

“A dealer.”

“Yeah, I got that part. How do you know him?”

“Friend of a friend. You know how that goes.”

“I know you’re in a lot of trouble, and Sammy is into some heavy stuff.”

Jack nodded just as a knock sounded on the door.

Lizzie froze, not sure what to do.

Jack crossed to the door, looked out the peephole, whispered, “Cops.”

Lizzie guessed they might show up, but she hadn’t thought they would be this fast. “I’ll have to answer it.”

Jack dashed to the bedroom. Lizzie waited until she saw the door close and then opened it.

“Miss Reynolds?” Lizzie nodded. “We have a warrant to search the apartment.”

They handed her a paper. She looked at it. Then she nodded and stepped aside, hoping Jack had found a good hiding place. She doubted it. Their apartment was on the tenth floor, the only place Jack had to go would be the fire escape. As if that hadn’t been done a million times.

Three officers entered the room and immediately began to search closets. One of them opened the bedroom and said, “Bingo.”

Jack came out without a fight. The officer put handcuffs on him.

“I’m sorry, Lizzie,” Jack said.

Lizzie nodded as the officer led Jack past her.

Six weeks later Katherine entered her office and smiled at Lizzie. “They caught Samuel Leon.” She dropped a newspaper on Lizzie’s desk.

Lizzie picked it up and sighed. “Thank God. I haven’t slept well with him running loose out there.”

“I thought you looked a bit peaked.”

Lizzie bit her lower lip, biting hard enough to draw blood. “I’m pregnant,” she said.

Katherine did a double take. “Come again?”

Lizzie nodded. “I said I’m pregnant.”

“Oh,” Katherine said. “How do you feel about that?”

She laughed. “Scared to death. Do you think you can get me in to see Jack?”

“When’s his hearing?”

“Three days.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

That same day, Lizzie sat across from Jack, a heavy glass partition between them—each of them perched with a phone receiver in one of their hands.

“Hi, Lizzie,” Jack said. “It’s good to see you.”

She nodded. A look of sadness pulled her smile down. “You too, Jack.”

“They finally let you come.”

“Katherine pulled some strings. I’m sorry I couldn’t pay your bail. I don’t have that kind of money and Daddy was pretty angry. He turned me down flat when I asked for a loan.”

“It’s okay,” Jack said. “I didn’t expect you to.”

She played with the cord on the phone, winding it around her fingers, watching her fingers, so she didn’t have to look at Jack.

Jack tapped on the glass, to draw her attention. “What’s wrong, Baby?”

“I’m pregnant.”

Jack’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, Lizzie,” he said. “How did that happen?”

She smiled “You were there, dummy.”

He laughed. “I know that. I thought you were on the pill.”

“Yeah, well, the pill is only ninety-nine percent effective, even less efficient if you forget to take one.”

“Oh. Are you happy about it? You look so sad.”

“I’m sad because I’m going to have to raise him or her without a father.”

“Maybe I’ll get a light sentence.”

“Maybe,” she said.

He said, “What’s next for us? Will you wait for me to get out?”

She hesitated, skirting the question. Then she replied, “I’m going back to school. Katherine said she‘d promote me if I get my paralegal. It won’t take that long.”

“What about the baby?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“What about us, Lizzie? You didn’t answer the question.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I thought I knew you, but after you left me in the alley…”

“I said I was sorry about that,” he snapped.

“It doesn’t change the fact that you left me, and that poor man, too, who died, by the way, so that you could get a fix.”

“Please. I need you.”

“You’re supposed to safeguard the things you love,” she said.

He fell silent. Lizzie waited, but it seemed they both had run out of things to say.

Finally, Lizzie said, “I have to go now. Katherine drove me. I’ll be at the hearing.”

“Thanks for that,” he said, the comment teeming with sarcasm.

Lizzie shook her head. “Goodbye, Jack.”

She rose to leave. Jack blew her a kiss as she walked out the door.

***

Beth squeezed the bars with all her might. The memory still was so vivid in her mind it was as if it were yesterday. She slapped the bars and started pacing.

She had seen in Jack the potential for great things, but all he saw was a cast-off son of a no good thief, drug abuser, and murderer. He hadn’t been able to overcome the image and had allowed it to consume him.

She had hoped prison would tame Jack, but given her current circumstances, that obviously wasn’t true.

How could Jack have fallen back into trouble so soon? Hadn’t the prospect of being a father even entered his mind? Or had his lack of self-esteem driven him so low?

She hadn’t told Timmy much about his father. He knew he had one, of course, but he imagined a hero, not someone whose casual disregard for others resulted in this chaos.

“Hey! You wanna leave some of that concrete for the next jailbird. I’m trying to sleep here.”

Beth whirled to find a scrawny-looking woman, more a girl actually, sitting up on the edge of a bunk. Her long, disheveled hair stuck straight up in spots, pushed up by the headband she wore around her head. Strands of beads and feathers hung from the headband. Her Native American costume was askew so that the side seams of her skirt showed in the front. Half her blouse extended out from her waistband, and her heavy makeup dripped down her cheeks.

“What happened to you?” Beth asked.

“I got in a fight,” the girl answered. “I’m Angela, but you can call me Angie, or Ang. Everyone does.”

“I’m Beth.”

“Just Beth, or is that short for something?”

Beth nodded her head. “It’s short for Elizabeth. My mother calls me that, but nobody else does.”

“Mothers tend to do that.” She looked Beth over, noting her neat appearance. “What’d you do, forget to pay your taxes or something?”

“Something,” Beth said.

“I get it. You don’t wanna tell me. It’s all cool. Being how you just met me and all.”

Beth noted the hurt expression on her cellmate’s face. She sighed and sat down on her cot. “I didn’t do anything.” Angie gave her a wry grin. “I’m serious,” Beth said. “I’ve been framed.”

Angie busted out in laughter. Beth couldn’t help but laugh at her cliché. When the laughter was under control, Angie asked again. “What’d you really do?”

“Fell in love with the wrong guy.”

“Damn, I didn’t realize that crime came with jail time.”

Beth smiled. “It does if your lover plants his stash on you.”

Angie’s mouth fell open. “Creep, scoundrel, good-for-nothing bastard.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“Pardon my asking, but are you one of those rich girls who fall for the badasses?”

“Apparently,” Beth said. “Funny thing, though, I thought I was over him—until he showed up at my car flashing those beautiful eyes of his.”

“Aw, the eyes will do it every time.”

Beth nodded. “We have a kid together, so it’s hard just to walk away.”

Angie’s eyes misted. “That’s nice of you. My mom never gave my dad a chance. I don’t even know what he looks like.”

“I’m sorry. I do want Timmy to know his dad, but not as he is now. I know it hurts, but maybe your mom did the right thing.”

“That’s what she says. Anyhow, I’m almost eighteen, and then I’m going to find him.”

“How old are you?” Beth asked, surprised that a minor was in here.

“I’m seventeen.”

“Why aren’t you in juvy?”

“I told the cops I was eighteen so they wouldn’t call my mom. She has enough to worry about without me screwing up again.”

Beth eyed her again and asked, “Why the costume?”

Angie grinned. “Me and my friends went to a concert. Stampin Navajos.”

“You stamped Navajos?”

Angie laughed. “No. That’s the name of the band, Stampin Navajos.”

“Okay, now I get it. So, whom did you fight with?”

Angie grinned again. “The store owner at AJ Liquors. He wouldn’t sell me some beer, so I got mad and threw the beer through the glass door.” She shrugged. “He called the cops, and here I am.”

“What are you going to do when they figure out you’re a minor?”

“I don’t know.” She frowned. “I guess I’m one of those kids who can’t shake trouble like I’m a giant magnet or something.” She spread her arms, holding them high to the ceiling. “Here I am, trouble, just waiting for you with open arms.”

Ironically, Beth understood what she was saying.

An outer door slid open, and both women looked up, watching and waiting to see who would materialize.

John came into sight, looked at Beth and the girl. “Am I interrupting something?”

Beth smiled. “It’s about time. Did you get the bail?”

John knit his brow together, held both hands out, palms up. “Did you have so little faith?”

Beth frowned. “I’m realistic.”

“Are you ready to go?”

“Don’t you know it!” She rose and, on impulse, bent over and hugged Angie. “Take care.”

Angie managed a cursory smile, wiped a tear from her eye, nodded her head, and said, “I’ll try.”

Beth held out her hand to John. “Do you have a card with you?”

John reached into his jacket pocket, extracted a leather case and handed Beth a business card. She gave it to Angie. “Call your mom, and then call this number and ask for me, Elizabeth Reynolds. They’ll put you through to my desk. We’ll see you get some help.”

“You’re a lawyer?”

“No, but I sure know a lot of them.”

Angie nodded. “Thanks.”

Beth walked through the open bars, winced as they slid shut. She turned and took a last look at Angie. “Call.”

Angie didn’t say anything. As Beth walked by the sergeant’s desk, she said, “The girl in there is a minor. If you get her a phone, I think she’ll call her mother.”

The sergeant nodded. “Thanks. I’ve been trying like crazy to find out who she is.”

“Okay,” she said to John, “let’s get out of here. I want to hold my son.”Angie didn’t say anything. As Beth walked by the sergeant’s desk, she said, “The girl in there is a minor. If you get her a phone, I think she’ll call her mother.”

The sergeant nodded. “Thanks. I’ve been trying like crazy to find out who she is.”

“Okay,” she said to John, “let’s get out of here. I want to hold my son.”

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