"The Compassion Play
An Aloha McCoy Story"
by: Ken Janssens
There are stupid people in this world and there are stuuuupid people in this world. I knew I belonged in at least one of those two categories. Don’t believe me? Then why was I hanging a good forty-something feet off the ground by my fingertips?
I had a new plan for this life. It seemed like a good plan. Well, an okay plan… alright, I didn’t think it entirely through. See, I ran a recreation center for youths on the outskirts of The Core and my biggest financial contributor had pulled out.
I had some ad money saved up from my short stint as an Olympic gymnast, but that was mostly for my mortgage. After trying but not succeeding in acquiring some other backers, I had to accept that I needed to find another income. Because I solved a “case” earlier in the month, I figured why not start up a part-time detective agency and run it out of my rec center. The start-up money was nearly a grand. And what’s my net income over the last three weeks? Yep, minus a thousand dollars. I had to start making some money soon. Knowing that was my number one priority, I decided to take on a pro bono case. Oh, I’d figured it out: definitely stuuuupid.
This whole thing began about four-thirty p.m. on a Tuesday. I was in my office going over my budget for the next month. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the headline of a newspaper half hidden under some other papers. ‘Star Teresa Keefe Comes Home.’ I looked at the accompanying photo of The Core’s own Hollywood success story—with her airbrushed skin, red, pixie-style hair, and puckered lips—then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My sweaty, tangled red-brown hair plastered against my light mocha skin and my formerly-white tank top said ‘Glamorous? Not so much’.
Trey was in the rec center teaching a group of kids the fundamentals of basketball. Trey was young, but had a good head on his shoulders, so I made him my second-in-command. It helped that he had a crush on me so I didn’t have to pay him much, not that he wasn’t worth three times what I gave him. I was back to concentrating on my financials when he came into my office. Perfect timing. Just as I was banging my feckin’ head against my desk.
“Allie, you okay?” Trey asked in a soft voice so as not to get some of my anger on him.
“Fantabulous,” I groaned as I looked up at him.
“You know Sergio?”
“Portuguese boy, comes on weekends, likes checkers.”
“Yeah, he’s outside and wants to talk to you.”
“Why didn’t he come in?” I questioned. “Is he hurt or something?”
“No,” Trey answered, cracking his knuckles absentmindedly. “He wouldn’t tell me what he wanted.”
Concerned and curious, I strode through the center and headed to the front doors. I didn’t mind that a lot of the teenagers checked me out as I passed them by. I was an inch or two shorter than most of them with a toned body and a mean right hook, pretty much the star of the majority of their wet dreams. Of course, if they ever learned how I truly was, they might not find me as attractive. I clicked open the doors and left their pubescent gazes. Eat your heart out, Miss Teresa Keefe!
Outside, holding up his mountain bike by the handles while he kicked pebbles, Sergio looked like a boy who had lost his puppy. He was usually a vigorous but respectful ten-year-old who wore a smile every day. This was apparently not “every day”.
“Hey, Sergio, are you okay?”
“No… no, not really,” he said as he continued to stare at the ground.
“Why don’t we sit down and talk about what’s bothering you?”
Slowly, he laid his bike down on the concrete and we skittered down the rec center wall. Looking out at the cars passing by in the street, I waited for him to talk. Sergio seemed to be waiting for a moment when he had fully suppressed his potential waterfall of tears before explaining his problem.
“Would my bike be enough?” he inquired.
“Enough for what?”
“To hire you.”
I paused a second as he kept his eyes glued to his knees. My heart was being torn from my chest. I was not very fond of that feeling.
“Whatever’s happened, whatever’s bothering you, I think you should go to the police. They are much more equipped to handle the problems of boys. Even the bad problems. I’ll come with you if you’d like.”
Sergio silently sat beside me for only a few more seconds, then got up and hopped on his bike.
“Sorry to bother you, Miss McCoy,” he said as he dropped his foot on the pedal. My hand jetted out and grabbed his arm. He almost fell over, but I steadied him.
“Sergio,” I pleaded. “Sergio, tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s okay. No one will help.”
“I will help. Let’s just go to the cops and—”
“The police had already been to our house. They said that they would look into it, but there was probably nothing they could do about it.”
“Do about what?”
“Finding my grandmother’s killer.”
And ripppppp—a complete heartenectomy.
“Listen, Sergio, you can keep your bike. My fee is that you come to my rec center whenever you’re free and enjoy yourself. Maybe help out once and awhile. How does that sound?”
Sergio nodded his head. Anything I could do to convince the kids who lived in The Core to come here and get away from the troubles there was a healthy bonus. Besides, I didn’t think of this job as a freebie, more of a practice for the big leagues. I was a big fan of self delusion.
“Well, you’re going to have to tell me everything you know. Have you eaten supper yet?”
I officially handed over the reins of the rec center to Trey for the night. We headed to my home on foot; Sergio walked his ride beside me. Aware that there wasn’t much in my cupboards, I threw some left over carrots and peas into a pot with a few packs of Cup-A-Soup. I let the boy get some of my gourmet meal down into his belly before gently probing to find out the details of the awful occurrence. I’m glad no one else was here to see me, or I might lose my reputation of being a real sonuvabitch.
“I was asleep in the living room, but didn’t wake up until the men were leaving the house,” Sergio sheepishly began. “I noticed that the door was kicked in and I ran upstairs to my grandmother’s bedroom. She was dead on her bed, with her eyes open.” He stared down into his soup—he had only made eye contact with me once today—then rubbed the salt water tears off his eyelashes before they could journey down his cheeks.
“Did the men leave with anything?” I asked, the closest I had come to forming a teardrop in maybe a decade.
“I don’t think so.”
“What happened when the cops came?”
“The first guy was really nice. I heard him saying to his partner that it was a strangalatin.”
“Strangulation?” I corrected softly.
“Yeah, he also said he was going to take fingerprints like we did in school, but then the mean man showed up.”
“Was he a cop as well?”
“Yeah, he told the two other policemen to go home and he would handle it. The mean cop looked around for a couple minutes after they left, then said that there was nothing they could do. He didn’t take prints or nothing. He told me ‘sometimes bad things happen’. Then he dropped me off at my aunt’s… that’s where I live now.”
Knowing that I had hidden some maple cookies from myself somewhere in the kitchen, I hunted until I dug them up. I gave Sergio as many as he could eat while I thought about how to approach this case.
“Did you get the name of the detective that drove you home?” I inquired.
“No, but the nice policeman said I could call him ‘Mike’ and his friend called him ‘O’Connor’.”
Well, that was a start. I was aware, of course, that if I was going to have to deal with the police in the Core, I would need back-up. ‘Back-up’ rarely knocked…
“I need my wok back, Aloha,” came Kam’s booming voice as he threw open my front door. My half-brother, Kamehameha, was six-foot-two and morbidly obese at three-hundred-and-fifty pounds, every last one of them shaking my floor as he stepped in. Kam and I shared a duplex together and used to be extremely close. However, the air had become a little frosty since my first so-called case three weeks ago. “This is getting ridiculous. You’ve had it for over a mo—”
“Kam, this is Sergio,” I introduced, in hopes that his tone would sweeten.
“Oh, hi there,” said Kam kindly. Kam, a full-blooded Hawaiian, had a business setting up Luau parties for adults and kids. I knew my older brother loved doing the magic shows for the younger set because he was just a big kid himself. He liked seeing the awe on their faces—and that was exactly what he was getting as Sergio’s mouth gaped open at the size of this man. The pupil-scorching massiveness of his bright Hawaiian shirt helped with the effect.
“Sergio’s grandmother was killed the other day and the coppers won’t do anything about it,” I related while letting Kam take in Sergio’s sad expression.
“There might be a shady shamus involved as well,” I added, apparently too soon. Kam stomped over to me with a smile on his face—clearly for Sergio’s benefit and not mine—caressed under my forearm, and led me outside for a conversation. I doubted it’d be about woks or maple cookies.
“Don’t try this crap with me, Allie,” growled Kam, once we were safely away from innocent ears.
“Whatever are you talking about?” I said with a coy smile. Despite Kam’s attitude toward me of late, he was still the only person in this world that I truly loved. I batted my eyelashes.
“No,” he stated firmly. “You might be okay with what happened, but I’m not. There’s a reason I left that life fifteen years ago, and I won’t be a party to helping you slide back there little by little. I can’t.”
All along I thought he was right pissed off about what I had brought into his world. It never occurred to me that he was concerned about my welfare. He didn’t have to worry about me, though. I was a big girl.
“Fine,” I gave in. “But could you at least drive Sergio home with me? It’s getting late, and I don’t want him to ride his bike into The Core… and for the record, I’m sorry that I made you worry about me.”
It was the first time in twenty-aught days that I saw his eyes return to their usual, comforting softness in my presence. Kam had always been the most jovial person I’d known. It was nice to see that come back. It killed me that I was about to abuse that good nature once again.