When fifteen-year-old Jude's father is brutally murdered, Jude is a witness. But to save his own life, he can't tell the police what he knows. Still, Jude is determined to clear his name and win the approval of his mother -- the district attorney he has not seen since he was an infant.
At the urging of his mother's longtime companion, Jude agrees to a crazy scheme to protect her political future. But what Jude doesn't know is that there are buried secrets that will require him to sacrifice more than he ever dreamed. And his search for approval will turn into one for revenge.
The police arrived, then the paramedics, then the police photographer, and after that Jude lost track. There were so many officers and technicians and medical personnel that they spilled out of the small kitchen and into the hallway beyond. They knew what to do with the body lying on the kitchen floor. They knew how to secure the area to preserve evidence. They knew the procedure cold. But no one knew exactly how to handle Jude.
Jude sat in the darkened living room staring at the television. He was aware of what they must be thinking. What kind of kid sat watching TV when his father was lying dead in the next room? That's what they were saying in the kitchen. He knew the smart thing would've been to act like they expected him to. He should have cried or something.
They had taken his statement, then one of the policemen -- the youngest, the one who couldn't pass the buck -- was assigned to stay with him in the living room. The policeman didn't sit. He chose to stand, like a guard, near the doorway.
Jude could feel the officer glance at him every once in a while, but he kept his eyes carefully focused on the television -- so he didn't notice another figure in the doorway until he heard someone clear his throat.
When Jude looked up, he saw a man in a suit. The suit was the tip-off. Detective, Jude thought.
The man jerked his head at the young policeman, and the officer beat a quick retreat down the hall. Then he looked back to Jude and said, "Hey."
"Hey," Jude replied.
The detective seemed to take the brief acknowledgment as an invitation, and he crossed the room to stand beside the couch. He glanced over at the muted television.
"What are you watching?"
Jude shrugged. "Crap."
"It's all crap," the man said. "But I watch it anyway," he added. "Mind if I sit?"
Jude shifted slightly, as if to make room.
The detective sat on the end where the springs were broken, and he sagged almost to the ground. He grunted but didn't comment on it. At that level Jude could see that he was balding at the crown.
They sat without talking. Jude pretended to be staring at the screen, but he was really watching the man next to him out of the corner of his eye. Just as Jude thought the man was about to speak, a sharp voice echoed down the hallway.
"Where the hell are you, Burwell?"
Another man appeared in the doorway of the living room. This man was as thin and sharp as his voice -- except for his face, which had the drooping, wrinkled look of a hound dog.
"I thought we were doing the walk-through first," he said to Burwell. His eyes slid over to Jude. "Is this the kid?" he continued, without waiting for an answer to his first question.
Jude turned back to the television. He didn't like how this second man talked about him as if he weren't even in the room, but Jude's pointed movement failed to offend him; it just drew the man's attention to the television.
"You guys watching Leave It to Beaver or something?"
"We're just hanging out," Burwell said, glancing at Jude as if to include him in his answer.
The second man moved into the room to get a better look at the television. "Hey, I love this show," he said. "Turn up the sound for a minute."
Jude lifted the remote and changed the channel.
Instead of getting angry, the man broke into a smiling chuckle. "I see you've got a smart-ass here," he observed, but he said it as if it were a compliment.
"Hey, Grant, why don't you go back into the kitchen and make some notes about the scene. I'll be back in a couple," Burwell suggested.
"Okay, partner. Whatever you say." Grant looked over at Jude and said, "Don't let my partner fool you. He likes to play the jolly fat man, but he has the soul of a shark." He winked, pivoted on his heel, and disappeared back down the hallway.
"Don't mind him. He's an asshole," Burwell said in explanation. He paused, then asked delicately, "I need to ask you a few questions. You okay with that?"
"I guess." Jude tugged nervously at a ragged patch of fabric on the arm of the sofa.
Burwell pulled a notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket. "Were you the one who called in?"
"Okay. What's your name?"
"How old are you, Jude?"
"Can you tell me who that is in the kitchen?"
"That's my dad."
Burwell had been scribbling, but then he stopped. "I thought so," he said. "I'm sorry about your loss."
It was a common enough phrase, and the man said it without fuss. Jude realized that the detective must have repeated it a hundred times before. It was just part of a day's work for him. For some reason the thought that the loss of his father -- the only person Jude had in the world -- was just another corpse in a long line of bloody cases made his throat close up.
"Do you have any relatives we can call for you?"
Jude shook his head.
"No," he said. "There's no one."
"Where's your mother?"
Jude looked back at the TV. "Dunno. She split when I was a baby." He waited for the man's pity, but Burwell just made a note and plowed on with his questions.
"Were you in the apartment when the shooting occurred?"
Burwell didn't overtly react, but he watched Jude more closely as he asked him the next question.
Here was where it got tricky. Jude had spent the last half hour trying to decide what his story would be. He decided that he couldn't lie about being here. Too many people had seen him on his way home, and he had passed a neighbor when he came into the building. So he said, "I was here, watching TV."
Burwell wrote for a few seconds. "We'll go over this more later, but right now I want you to tell me about what happened. Do you think you can do that?"
Jude figured his best course would be to keep it simple. "I heard someone bust in the door," he said. He paused and had to clear his throat before going on. "They went down to the kitchen and I heard something, like a pop or something. Then they took off."
Jude covered quickly. "I heard them talking when they were walking down the hall."
"I'm pretty sure."
"So they never came back in here?"
Jude shook his head.
"And you didn't go into the kitchen?"
"Not until they split."
"Then you went in?"
"And what did you do when you went into the kitchen?"
"I called 911."
"And how long after that did the police arrive?"
"Less than ten minutes," Jude guessed.
"Do you know why someone might have wanted to kill your father?" Burwell asked, flipping the page in his notebook and still scribbling.
"Yeah." Jude had made the decision to be honest here.
Burwell glanced up. "Oh?"
"He was skimming too much from his shipments," Jude said. Now that they had gotten away from what happened, he felt a little steadier.
"His shipments of what?"
"Heroin and coke mostly." Jude changed the channel on the TV.
"Did he get a shipment tonight?"
"You saw it?"
"Did you see who dropped it off?"
Jude shook his head.
"Do you know who he got it from?"
Burwell rested his notebook on his knee and looked at Jude, his plump face unreadable in the light from the television.
Jude expected another question, but this time it didn't come.
"So, you think you're pretty tough, I guess," Burwell said mildly.
The comment caught Jude off guard. He didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything.
Burwell took his silence as agreement. "Well, I'll let you believe that for a little while. I'm going to have one of the men take you down to the station, and we'll come down when we finish here. So you have maybe" -- he checked his watch -- "an hour or so to think about how tough you are before we get there."
He folded up his notebook and tucked it back into his pocket, sliding the pen in beside it.
"See, I'm ready to be sympathetic and understanding here, but if you don't tell me the truth, you're forcing my hand. I've been doing this too long not to smell bullshit when it's served up to me. The officers asked your neighbors if they heard anything. They're not too helpful -- apparently no one saw a damn thing -- but your neighbor Mrs. Ramos was pretty positive about one very interesting detail. She said she heard someone kick in the door. She didn't call the police or go out and check because she didn't want to get involved, but she was worried enough that they might try her door next that she stood and listened for them. Mrs. Ramos claims that whoever went into your apartment didn't come out for nearly ten minutes. She was real positive about that. Willing-to-testify kind of positive, if you know what I mean. So maybe you should think about whether you want to tell me what was going on in here for those ten minutes. Ten minutes you say you were here in the TV room and they were shooting your father, and you didn't see a thing."
Jude scrambled desperately to think of something to say -- something convincing, something believable.
Burwell waited a moment, and when Jude didn't respond, he said, "You see, this detective thing isn't that hard because people aren't that smart." He stared at Jude. Jude tried to stare back, but he found he couldn't hold it.
"Listen, you're young. We don't send kids to jail. If you had something to do with this, it's better to tell us. Then we can help you. Maybe it was a friend of yours come to take care of things for you. You've got a nasty bruise there, and your neighbors told us that you tend to get a lot of bruises. We take those things into account, you know. We understand about things like that."
"You don't understand anything," Jude said.
The detective seemed to hear the catch in his throat, and his next question was gentler. "Okay, maybe I don't, but how can I understand if you don't tell me? Listen, if you're scared about them coming after you, remember, we're the police. Protecting people is what we do."
If Jude had only been worried about his safety, he might have caved in and told the detective everything he knew. But the man had trusted him. He had trusted Jude to keep his word and had left him alive. He wasn't going to be like his father, Jude told himself fiercely.
When the silence stretched out, the detective nodded as if Jude had said something that confirmed all his suspicions. "Right. Let me explain something to you, Jude. Maybe you didn't have anything to do with this, but if you know something about your father's murder and you don't tell us, that makes you an accessory to the crime. That means you're partially responsible, and if we can prove it, we can cart you off to juvie, and the boys there will make a tough kid like you look like cotton candy. So think about that for a little while, and see if you can remember anything else."
Jude thought about it.
He was still thinking about it in the interrogation room more than two hours later. One of the policemen had taken him down to the station to wait for the detectives, and the longer he sat there, the more he felt like he wanted to jump out of his skin.
He jumped up and paced the room, back and forth, back and forth. The mirrored window caught his eye, and he realized that someone -- maybe even the detectives -- could be on the other side watching. Waiting. Figuring out when he was softened up enough. They already knew he was lying. His story hadn't held up for even five minutes. What would happen if they questioned him for two hours? Would he hold out...or would he break down and tell them the truth?
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