Five lousy minutes.
Detective George Rawls hung up the phone, brought his feet down from his cluttered desktop, looked at his watch, and sighed. If the kid had walked into the station five minutes later, Rawls’s shift would have been over. He would have been driving home to enjoy a peaceful dinner with his wife.
Five more minutes and Benson would have caught this case. Rawls stood up and looked over the divider toward Rick Benson’s desk. Benson, looking back at him, smirked. Rawls rolled his eyes and hitched up his pants. They kept falling down—his wife’s fault, all those vegetables she’d been feeding him since his cholesterol numbers came in high.
He opened the upper left-hand drawer of his desk and took out his service revolver. Rawls was old school; he still used the weapon that had been issued to him as a rookie. He emptied the cylinder into the drawer and slid the unloaded weapon into his shoulder holster.
The unloaded gun was a prop. These young punks were impressed by such things. Most of them. He left his jacket hanging on the back of his chair and made his way out of
the room and down the hallway toward the front entrance. He walked past the long citizens’ bench, automatically checking out the four people sitting there: A slight, pale-faced boy—black jeans, black T-shirt, scuffed-up black cowboy boots—sat with his elbows resting on his knees, staring at the floor. Probably some middle-school bad boy picked up for shoplifting. Next was a young woman wearing a tight skirt, smeared mascara, and a nasty bruise on her right cheek. A hooker, no doubt. Then an anxious-looking older woman, probably there to report a runaway husband, or a purse snatching. At the end was a scowling middle-aged man in a rumpled suit—could be anything.
Rawls made these assessments automatically and effortlessly. Part of the job.
Directly facing the front doors of the police station, John Kramoski sat behind his elevated desk flipping through the duty roster. Rawls stopped in front of him. The desk sergeant looked up.
“Sorry, George,” Kramoski said. “I know your shift is almost over, but you were up. And it’s a kid—your specialty.”
Rawls was the precinct’s unofficial “Youth Crimes” officer. He had once believed that, working with kids, he might actually make a difference. These days he wasn’t so sure.
“Where is he?” he asked.
Kramoski jerked his thumb toward the bench.
Rawls looked over, surprised. “How come he’s not in the interview room?”
“He walked in here by himself. Besides, look at him. What’s he gonna do?”
“We’re talking about the kid on the end, right?”
Rawls shook his head. “He looks, like, twelve.”
“Says he’s sixteen.”
“And Mary and Joseph, bro.” Kramoski returned his attention to the duty roster.
Rawls walked back down the hall, past the man in the suit, past the older woman, past the prostitute. He stopped in front of the kid and waited for him to look up. It took a few seconds. The kid’s hair was thick, the color of dried leaves, maybe three weeks past needing a cut. He slowly sat back and raised his head to look directly into Rawls’s eyes, his expression devoid of all emotion.
Rawls felt something throb deep within his gut. He had seen that expression before, on other faces. The face of a mother who had lost her only child. The face of a man who had just learned he would be spending the rest of his life in prison. The face of a girl who woke up to find that she would never walk again. A look of despair so deep and profound …it was as if the connections between the mind and the face were severed, leaving only a terrible blankness.
He had seen that expression in other places too. The morgue. Funeral parlors. Murder scenes.
The face of the dead.
But this boy was not dead. Somewhere behind those eyes there existed a spark—a spark that had brought him here, to this building, to this bench, to George Rawls.
“Are you Shayne?” Rawls asked.
The boy dropped his chin. Rawls took that as a yes and sat beside him on the bench, feeling every last one of his forty-three years, fifteen of them as a cop. Despite having conducted hundreds of such interviews, he found himself at a loss. Something about this kid—who could not have weighed much more than his Labrador retriever—frightened him. Not fear for himself. The other kind of fear: fear that the universe no longer made sense, that everything was about to change.
“So …,” Rawls cleared his throat, looking straight ahead, “…who did you kill?”