"Aloha McCoy - Hello New Life, Hello Old"
Getting pistol whipped ain’t fun. As I got an extremely close look at the concrete floor of the warehouse, that fact pounded into my head with blood-expanding throbs. My vision was weaving in and out of extreme blurriness. At times I could pick out the old snub nose I had brought laying a good fifty feet away. That wasn’t good. Smythe was talking, but about what I wasn’t sure anymore. It didn’t matter; he was an idiot, though not as much of an idiot as I was. I don’t know why I came back here to the center of The Core. To the core of The Core. It was stupid—part bull-headedness, part showing myself that my past didn’t matter. And, of course, it all started out with a tall blonde.
Two nights ago, I was working at the youth recreation center I owned, a modest place that I’d had for three years. In spite of the grants from the city, I’d be paying it off for another twenty. The building used to be an old boxing gym three decades back. Now in my hands, it kept the punks and the misunderstoods off the streets, hopefully holding tight long enough that they wouldn’t turn into the adults that I meant for them to stay away from in the first place. My brother and I had one of these when we were growing up in The Core. It was run by Charles Murphy. He was like a second dad; maybe even a first dad since Devin McCoy was away more than he was around. Anyway, I credited Charles for saving us, for making us the people we were today and, therefore, I modeled my place after his. Mine, however, was just on the outskirts of The Core instead of smack dab in the middle of it. That’s just where I landed. Should’ve been closer, should’ve been farther.
I was showing twelve-year-old Tricia Sinclaire the finer points of an uppercut jab on the body-length punching bag when Louis Orchid came in. He was tall and good-looking, that was for sure. My attention turned from the striking blows of the little spitfire, who reminded me a lot of me at that age, to the flute of champagne that approached me.
“Are you Aloha McCoy?” the light-haired, blue-eyed stunner asked. I was. Not too hard to pick out of this crowd of mostly Irish teens and prepubescents. I was thirty-one and had a perpetually tanned complexion, a gift from my mom’s Hawaiian heritage that rescued me from the specter skin of my father. From Devin, I got my thin but athletic frame, my short stature, and my even shorter temper. I was also gaga over anything potatoes. The reddish-brown of my wavy hair was a split down the parental middle.
“Call me Allie,” I smirked and possibly blushed. Call me anytime.
“Have you done something with my son?” he countered without a smile. I was pretty enough, I was told. I usually at least got a smile right off the hop. That was, until they got to know me. And I rarely get an accusation this soon. That kind of hostility took a couple minutes.
“On second thought, you can feckin’ call me Miss McCoy.” I didn’t like to feel small. Could be because I stood five-four. Could be because I was a real sonuvabitch. Regardless, if a person talked to me in any way to take total control of a situation and, by transitivity, me, they ought to be ready to have some sort of fight on their hands… verbal or physical.
“He’s… I need to know…” Blondie was starting to hyperventilate. He grabbed for the kinked chain that connected the top of the punching bag to the ceiling. I signaled with a head flick for Tricia to find something else to do, so she scampered toward two other girls who were working on a 3-D puzzle near the dingiest of the yellowed walls.
“Hey, you need some water?” I asked the man. He had slowed down his breathing to prevent a good, old-fashioned swoon. He put up his hand to indicate the stars weren’t coming.
“Sorry, I just… my son is missing,” he exhaled out. I instantly felt bad for him and he suddenly became attractive again.
“Why don’t you slowly tell me what happened?”
“Alright,” he said with one more long breath. “His name is Jason. He buses down to your centre a few times a week. He’s thirteen. The last time I saw him he said he was coming down here. That was two days ago.”
“Jason?” I asked with an uncertain tone. “What’s his last name?”
“Orchid. I’m Louis Orchid.”
“Mr. Orchid,” I said trying to be as soothing as possible, which was entirely against my nature, “there are a lot of children who come through here. If you have a picture of your son, it might help.”
Fumbling through the pockets of his navy blue suit pants, Louis pulled out his cell phone, pushed some buttons, and turned the tiny screen around to show me a close-up picture he had taken of his son. I recognized him now, but just barely. Jason was one of those ghost kids that didn’t make much of an impression. I’d talked to him on a few occasions but compared to most of the boys here who spent more time and words vying for my attention, he didn’t rate high on my list of known faces.
“Okay, yes, I know Jason,” I exaggerated.
“Did he show up here Tuesday?”
“I wasn’t here Tuesday so I couldn’t say for sure.” Actually I had been here all day, but if Louis’s son stepped through the front door or not, I hadn’t a clue.
“I have money,” Louis spurted out.
“I’m happy for you,” I said confused. Quickly, I realized that sounded insensitive.
“You’re a private investigator, aren’t you?” Louis was obviously more confused than I. “I think that’s what Jason said to me once.” Apparently, this kid was more invested in our ‘relationship’ than I was. I felt ashamed. I hated people, but I liked kids.
“I was an investigative journalist for a couple years,” I explained as the hope in his eyes fell away. I pointed to the walls around me. “This is me now.”
“But you are versed in the world of investigation then.”
“Mr. Orchid,” I said with regret, trying to focus on his face instead of his nice strong hands that I just noticed. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I can help you.”
“Was there anyone else working here that I could ask?”
“I don’t believe that – ”
“Has anyone here seen Jason Orchid in the last few days?” Louis interrupted me as he yelled to the forty-aught kids that inhabited the place. Trey Westbrook, my only employee, if you could call him that for the little I actually paid him, looked up from the game of floor hockey he was playing at the far end. Trey was sixteen-years old, a former petty pot dealer who had changed his ways two years back. He credited this place for turning his life around and now he worked for me four days a week. Besides my brother Kam, he was the only other person I completely trusted in this world. Trey raised his hand and the other six boys and one girl stopped their running about.
“He’s five foot seven, looks like a mini me,” Louis continued. The population of the rec center looked at each other, but no one said anything. With one last desperate plea, Louis shouted “Anyone?”
When no one answered, the blonde beauty marched fast out of my world. The door clanked behind him and I turned back to my kids.
“Everyone back to what they were doing,” I demanded. They immediately fell into their own little worlds, whether they were feeling it or not. They always did what I told when I had that tone.
I was about to go over to talk to Trey, see what he made of long-legged Louis, when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. A boy I only knew as “Shamrock” was inching toward the back door and looking quite nervous as he did it. So as not to alert him that I was watching, I pretended to be trying to wet a stain on my white tank top. A white tank top and black lululemon yoga pants – that was my regular attire when I was at the rec center. Who was I kidding? That was my regular attire everywhere. If it got a little cooler, I threw on my brown, zip-up hoodie.
I worked my way up to rewrapping the white boxers’ tape I had around my hands by the time Shamrock finally made it out the heavy, push-handle door. Striding over to the door, I held up my hand for Trey, twisting my index finger around to let him know to hold down the fort while I stepped out. I slowly clicked the door open so it wouldn’t make much noise and watched Shamrock turn the corner of the building onto Glasgow Avenue. In my Asics, I jogged down to Glasgow and tailed Shamrock from a distance. He waddled a block and a half over to Imperial Meats, the local deli. The slightly overweight youth with a couple of hamhocks strapped around his own waist picked up the receiver to the badly-tagged phone kiosk.
I decided to cut through the yard of a derelict house on the corner, hoping that Shamrock wouldn’t see me, then try to get beside the meat shop to listen in. By the time I got into place, I caught only the butt end of the conversation.