Trial By Fire
Evan’s twelve- year- old body is stiff in the cushy passenger seat of the black sedan as he is driven in silence. His cheek is split and his temple bruised. Blood slides warmly down his neck, mixing with panic sweat. Raw skin rings his wrists where the handcuffs were.
His heartbeat thunders in his chest, his head.
He uses all his will to give nothing away.
He has been in the car only five minutes. The leather smells expensive.
The driver has given his name, Jack Johns. But nothing else.
An old guy, at least fifty- something, with a wide, handsome face. He’s built square like a catcher and has a baseball squint to match.
Jack tugs a handkerchief from his rear pants pocket, fluffs it out, and offers it across the console. “For your cheek.”
Evan looks at the fine linen. “The blood’ll stain it.”
Jack’s face registers amusement. “It’s okay.”
Evan wipes his face. He was the smallest of the kids, the last one picked for sports. It was only through a savage set of challenges that he found his way into this seat, that he’d managed to get himself chosen.
None of them had known what to make of the Mystery Man when he materialized at the edge of the cracked basketball courts, eyeing the boys as they’d played and fought. Hidden behind Ray- Bans, dragging his fingers along the chain- link, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He walked slowly, never in a rush, and yet every time he seemed to vanish as quickly as he’d appeared. Theories abounded. He was Chester the Molester. A rich businessman looking to adopt. A dealer in human organs on the black market. A recruiter for the Greek mob.
Evan had been willing to take the leap.
He has been taken out of circulation as surely as if he’d been zapped off the streets by a flying saucer.
Trial by fire, yes— a recruitment of some sort, but for what, Evan still has no idea.
All he knows is wherever he is heading now has to be better than what’s behind him in East Baltimore. His stomach gives off a rumble that embarrasses him even here, even now. He glances at himself in the side mirror. He looks malnourished. Maybe where he’s going, food will be abundant.
Or maybe he’ll be the food.
He works up his nerve. Clears his throat. “What do you want me for?” he asks.
“I can’t tell you that yet.” Jack drives in silence for a time, then seems to realize that his answer isn’t satisfactory for a kid in Evan’s position. “I may not tell you everything right away,” he adds in a tone that stops shy of apologetic, “but I will never lie to you.”
Evan studies him. Decides to take him at his word. “Am I gonna get hurt?”
Jack drives on, looking dead ahead. “Sometimes,” he says.