by Sarah Prescott
Four boys stood in a circle facing each other; taunting and yapping like a troop of monkeys. Jack kept his distance, even though it was his idea to meet in the fields behind the construction site. He noticed Tim first; standing a little outside the circle, his arms crossed looking towards the ground. The other three, looking to him as they joked and passed a bottle inside a paper bag between them.
“Hurry up, Jack it’s your turn!” He heard the chubby kid shout over. His name was Craig and he always smelt like sweat and dirt. Jack’s teeth clenched. My turn for what? He thought. He started walking over in their direction and noticed their hands raised, holding rocks and playfully throwing them at each other. He picked up the pace and as he approached he saw that they had someone pinned to the ground, standing on two small hands and feet that protruded outside the circle. As Jack got closer, he saw that it was a kid he knew, James, “little Jimmy” Dalton the boys held prisoner. He had blood smeared all over his face and dripping from the sides of his mouth. His eyes stared up at the sky: Lifeless. Jack felt a stab of nausea and swallowed hard, shaking it off before anyone could notice.
“What the fuck is wrong wit you, Burrows? Ain’t you seen a dead body before? Jesus fucking Christ” The biggest boy said, swigging from the paper bag. He was built like a refrigerator.
“No Mick, I aven’t orite.” Jack felt them all staring at him, waiting for him to flinch so they could make him eat rocks too. He stood there, hands in his pockets sniffing the air, his eyes fixed on Mick.
“It don’t even look like a person no more”, Nathan said, laughing and kicking dirt in the direction of little Jimmy’s head. Jack swallowed hard again and looked down. When he eventually looked up the other boys had stepped back and Jimmy just laid there, face-up, eyes wide like a rag doll. His limbs spread out in disarray and his perfectly combed hair had been roughed up and ripped out in places. Jack shuddered. This kid was just a few years younger than them at school and hung out with Nathan’s little brother. How did this happen? Jack thought. He couldn’t take his eyes off Dalton’s face and for a split second he was sure he saw him blink.
“He was a little faggot!” Mick said. “He didn’t want to pay up after we all bet he couldn’t smash out all the windows in Meadowview across the tracks. And he couldn’t — Ha! This is what happens when you can’t take a beating, right boys?!” They all smirked.
“Now help me find a place round here to dump him.”
The chubby kid, Craig Codding or ‘Tubbs’ as they called him was always the first to laugh at Mick’s jokes; started lifting nearby debris and discovered the lip to a sinkhole about 25 yards away from where little Jimmy laid. Jack felt a cold sweat run down his back as he looked from one boy to the next. His feet were anchored to the ground like slabs of concrete.
“You got a problem, Burrows? Huh? C’mon and help us move him.” Tim said, reaching down and grabbing Jimmy’s right arm, the others followed, each taking a limb. Jack slowly took Jimmy’s head in his hands. It felt limp and heavy as they all carried him over to the edge of the sinkhole and let him go. He rolled like a bag of potatoes tumbling down a hill until he reached the mouth at the bottom. They all stood and watched as, inch-by-inch he slowly disappeared and the earth swallowed up every last trace of ‘little Jimmy’ Dalton. Jack felt a hollow pit form in his stomach and his eyes glazed as he looked from one boy’s face to the next. They all looked unfazed.
“Do you ever feel guilty?” Jack’s therapist, Dr. Hans asked him, glancing over his thinned framed glasses and sipping from his ‘Good morning asshole’ mug. That seemed to be his cup of choice during their weekly meetings.
“I don’t feel anything half the time.” Jack said, rubbing his temple with this index finger. “Mostly I think about other stuff and it gets to be the norm.” He looked above Dr. Hans’ head behind the large mahogany desk at the clock, counting the seconds. Almost time, he thought. Sitting on the edge of the velvet chaise lounge, his hands clasped tightly between his legs. This was the biggest waste of his time, coming down here. Especially since the Ginsburg missing-persons case, which was slowly looking more like a potential homicide. Jack didn’t have the luxury of time.
“Maybe that’s because you tend to drink, Jack?” Dr Hans said, interrupting his train of thought and Jack shot him a look.
“Tell me about the girls on Pine beach?” He continued. “Have you spoken with their families yet? Why don’t you share a little?”
Jack believed Dr. Hans was secretly sadistic, always probing for the most detailed accounts of horrible memories or recent events in his cases. Why else would someone ask in so much depth? He often wondered. The clock slowly reached 4pm and clicked into place. Jack stood up as Dr. Hans scribbled something in his notepad.
“Same time next week?” he said, looking up.
“Sure.” Jack said as he got off the couch and started towards the door without saying goodbye.
He walked out onto the street, pulled out a pack of Newports, drew one out with his teeth and sparked it. Inhaling deep, he felt that warm fuzzy feeling tickle like butterflies in his chest and he slowly exhaled, savoring the dirty taste in his mouth. For that split second he forgot everything. Then his phone buzzed.
“Burrows” he said, crossing the street to his car.
“You need to come in, Jack. There’s a guy here–says he knows something about the Ginsburg case–claims he knows you too.”
“Be right there.” Jack said, taking a few more drags and then flicking his cigarette into the gutter.
Jack made his way to interrogation room 217; two coffees in-hand and nudged the door open with his foot. Glancing in he saw a stocky middle-aged man sat at the table in a beige linen suit facing the wall, his hat on the table. As Jack entered the man turned to face him, his eyes gradually meeting the coffee cups in his hands.
“Thanks for the coffee, Detective,” he said, fidgeting with the brim of his hat. Jack’s eyes narrowed on the man’s pudgy hands. His eyes were also dark and oddly close together like two piss-holes in the snow. Then it hit him.
“Craig Codding?” Jack asked.
“Actually it’s Dr. Codding.” The man said, puffing out his chest.
That pain was back in the pit of Jack’s stomach. He walked over, put one of the coffees down and sat on the other side of the table sipping through the small hole in the lid, waiting for Codding to speak. He noticed Codding still had the same sweaty, nervous look he did on the stand in court when they were kids.
“My colleague tells me that you have some information for me on a case I’m working on?” Jack skipped the small talk, especially after his long session earlier with Dr. Probes-a-lot.
“Well, first of all Jacky, it’s nice to see you after all these years. You’ve done well for yourself–Detective and all. The reason I’m here is simply that I’d like to put something to rest before you turn up at my door. You see–I live on that strip of beach where your team are digging up holes all over the place and I’ve noticed the news trucks and locals gathering around the area. Anyway, what’s concerning me is that the media claim that the police have found four dead bodies not too far from my property. Not to sound too insensitive but you can imagine what that does to real-estate value, right! Anyway, I’d like to help all I can so that the department can wrap it all up as quickly as possible and the news crews can move out and on to the next big story.” Jack was confused.
“Is that all you have for me?”
Codding’s weight shifted in his seat.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve been offering my services to the local ‘working’ girls in the area who need help cleaning up for the last five years. I do remember this young girl that recently went missing. Her name was Paula, right? Paula Ginsburg?”
“That’s right, she’s missing. Presumed dead” Jack said nodding. “So when was the last time you saw her?”
Codding’s eyes were fixed on the coffee cup in front of him.
“I saw her running past my house the same night I think she disappeared.”