The mood changed when Maude asked Richie what they would do now. He said, “there’s nothing we can do. Just sit and wait, I guess, and pray for a miracle. Forensics is working the bullet but unless we find the gun and put it in someone’s hand, it’s not going to matter. It will just be another one of those cases, filed away in the basement with an unsolved sticker on the box.”
Maude said, “surely someone else will come forward.” Richie said, “after what happened to the old man? Are you serious? Would you?” He looked down at his coffee cup and said, “no one’s going to come forward.”
Lonesome dove was sitting in his booth as usual, watching and listening and doodling on a napkin. Maude had never seen him do that before. She went over with the coffee pot and offered a refill. He shook his head, put on his hat and got up to leave.
She noticed that he left the napkin. She picked it up and before she threw it away, decided to look at it. She opened it and saw a conglomeration of concentric circles and sequential lines. “This is like a beautiful work of art,” she thought to herself. As she carefully examined the configurations, she stood speechless when she saw a word that had been so intricately woven into the design, it was almost invisible.
After two weeks, life at the Waffle Shack was as normal as it could be given what happened. Chris was back at work and seemed to be handling himself and his guilt pretty well, although the death of the little girl and the old man had clearly taken a toll.
The boys were surprised when their Lieutenant came walking in and sat down with them. He said, “we got an anonymous tip this morning and Chris, I want you to go out and take point. Richie, I want you to go with him. Peterson is out there now, but I’m going to pull him off.”
“Where are we going, Lieutenant?” Chris asked. “You’re going out Savannah Road to the old abandoned salvage yard to have a look-see, and Richie, you are going to talk to the local hobo. You know who I mean.”
Richie knew the “hobo,” and he knew his story. He was called “saggy britches Jack” and he wandered into the yard sometimes to find temporary refuge in a wrecked car during inclement weather.
While they were waiting to settle up with Maude, Richie told Chris about him.
“He’s a pitiful figure,” said Richie. “I have to go out there now and then to get him to leave. He was a highly educated man who lost his job after the crash of ’08. He lost his home and then he lost his wife. He just never could get it together after that, so he more or less just put a bottle to his head and pulled the trigger.”
Chris asked why they called him saggy britches Jack. Richie said, “he ends up in the hospital a lot. He’ll get beaten up by other homeless people or just some random thug. His clothes are always filthy and most of the time they have to be cut off, so the hospital gives him whatever they have. They’re not couture, and most of the time they’re way too big, but he doesn’t care.” Chris sort of chuckled when he repeated the name “saggy britches.”
Richie said, “I don’t call him that, nor should you. There but by the grace of God, go I, or you, or anybody else. He’s a pitiful shell of a man, but he’s intelligent, kind and I don’t believe that he would do anything to hurt you, or me, or anybody else. He just got hit by the bad luck train.
When they got to the yard, saggy britches Jack was leaning against the back of a patrol car in handcuffs. Officer Peterson smiled and said, “he’s all yours, pal. Says he ‘saw something’, but I wouldn’t put much stock into anything he says. He’s just a drunk.” Richie gave him a look, and said, “yeah. I’ll take care of it.”
A firefighter walked over and said, “you might want to come over here and take a look. We’ve got a dead body back here in a car. Gunshot to the back of the head, execution style.” Richie told Chris to go with the firefighter to check out the body while he talked to Jack.
Richie uncuffed Jack and took him aside. “Jack? Can you talk to me for a minute?” Jack said, “boss, I didn’t do anything.” Richie said, “I know you didn’t and you don’t have to call me boss.” Jack said, “okay boss.” Richie said, “just tell me what you saw.” Jack said, “boss, you’re going to think I’m crazy.” Richie said, “no I won’t. Just tell me what you saw.”
Jack shook his head and said, “boss, I really need a drink right now…you know…to steady my nerves.” Richie said, “I’ll get you a drink, but right now, I need you to take a breath and tell me what you saw.” Jack put his hands over his face and said, “you’re not going to believe me, boss.”
Richie said “come on. You know me. I’ve always been straight with you. Tell me. What did you see?”
Jack said, “boss, I was hiding in that car over there and I heard what I thought was a gunshot. It was a gunshot, right boss?” Richie said, “we don’t know yet.” Jack said, “well, it woke me up and I crawled out of the car. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I figured since I was awake, I’d take a piss. Then, I looked up and saw this beautiful, willowy blonde walking away. She almost looked like she was floating.”
Richie looked at him, trying not to shake his head in disbelief, and patted him on the back. Jack said, “I swear to God, boss, I saw her. I admit that I was lit last night, and I was asleep when I heard that gunshot, or whatever it was, but I know what I saw.” Richie said, “okay, buddy.”
Jack looked at him and said, “see. I knew you’d think I was crazy.” Richie said, “I believe you and I don’t think you’re crazy. I just think you might be a little confused.”
Chris came over and said, “you’re not going to believe who that is back there.” Richie asked, ”who?” Chris said, “Red Dog.” Richie said, “are you fucking kidding me?” Chris said “no. Not kidding. It’s him.”
Richie scratched his head and said, “how the hell did he get here? Was he killed here or brought here? Can you tell?” Chris said, “it looks like he was killed here. There’s blood and brains all over the car he’s in, but my question is, how did someone get him here if they did, and how did they get him here without his goons?”
Jack looked at Richie and put his hands together like he was praying. “I told you I thought I heard a gunshot, but I swear boss. I didn’t do it.” Again, Richie said, “I believe you think you heard a gunshot.” Jack quietly mumbled, “but you don’t believe me about that woman, do you?”
Richie didn’t answer. “Let’s wait for the coroner, he said.” The coroner arrived, pronounced and agreed that Red Dog was most likely killed on site. He put time of death at around 2 o’clock that morning.
As they put Red Dogs’ body into the back of the car, Chris had an almost evil smile on his face as he spit on the body bag. Richie said, “I know how you feel, bud, hell, we all do, but you don’t want anyone seeing you do something like that. Go on down to the station and file the report. I’ll finish up here.”
Chris asked what he was going to do about Jack. Richie said, “he’s not a suspect. He may be a potential witness, but that’s questionable at this point. Right now, he’s just a homeless man who’s had a bit too much to drink, and that’s what you’ll put in your report.”
“Seriously?” Chris asked. “Seriously,” Richie said. Chris leaned over and whispered, “what’s with you and this bum anyway?” Richie did appreciate Chris’ sudden callousness. He said, “what happened to you, Chris? What happened to that caring person you used to be? What happened to your compassion?”
Chris said, “my caring and compassion got an old man killed, remember?”
Richie took Chris aside and said, “you’re still young and feeling your oats. I get that. You think life took a big dump on you and now you think you need to turn into an asshole, right?”
Chris said “right.” Richie turned and said, “wrong. One day, you’ll figure it out. An officer’s best weapon is his compassion. Remember that. You had it a month ago and it’s time to get it back. Now go on and file your report.”
Richie put Jack in the back of his car and told him he would take him to a shelter, but Jack wanted to go to the park. “People try to beat me up at those shelters,” he said. “I can usually hide somewhere in the park and they can’t find me.”
Richie stopped on the way and bought him a hamburger. After Jack scarfed it down, Richie went to the ABC store and bought him a pint of Vodka.
Richie took Jack to the park, and when he got out of the car he said, “boss, I swear I’m telling the truth about what I saw.”
To be continued______________