Madison watched the boy eat his sandwich through the window of the interrogation room. Even though he couldn’t use his fingers, he seemed to manage with his thumbs. He had attacked the sandwich as soon as Mandy had given it to him. Madison wondered when was the last time he had had a full meal. As much as she wanted to hate him, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. His black hair was shaggy and he needed a shower badly. She wondered where he had come from and who took care of him. Why was he sitting by Andie’s body? She remembered the bruises around Andie’s neck. Andie was 5’8” and this boy was barely five feet. She didn’t think that he would have been able to strangle anyone so much taller than he was, nor could he have lifted the tub onto the counter. And his hands. He could only move his thumbs, and, while he seemed pretty dexterous with his thumbs, she didn’t think that he could wrap them around anyone’s neck.
She knew that he was the key to this, though. Or otherwise, why would he stay by the body? He had wanted to be found. She was sure of that. She stepped out into the hall. Mandy was using her office to find a placement for the boy. When she entered her office, Mandy was just ending her call.
“Any luck?” Madison asked.
Mandy shook her head.
“We don’t have very many foster homes in this area. They are all full right now. I’ll have to place him in a home nearer to Grand Junction.”
Madison didn’t want him that far away. She needed him close if she was going to gain his trust and get him to talk to her.
“Can you hold on a minute, Mandy? I have an idea.”
Mandy nodded as Madison left the office and headed to the interrogation room. She opened the door. The boy had finished his sandwich and was working on a small bag of chips. He had dumped them out onto the plate so he could grip them between his thumb and the side of his index finger. He stopped eating and looked at her. His eyes looked so old in his young face, as if he had witnessed countless tragedies.
She pulled a chair next to him and sat down.
“I need to know something, just between you and me.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Are you the one who hurt my friend?”
He shook his head no.
“But you know who did.”
He nodded slightly.
“Did you see it?”
He shook his head no again.
“Why did you…?”
But the boy put his head down and shoved his fists into his frayed pockets. He was done communicating. His clothes were tattered and torn. She could see his big toe through a hole in his sneakers.
“I’ll be back in a minute. You won’t be here much longer.”
Madison returned to her office. Mandy was swiping her phone screen. She looked up as Madison entered the room.
“I’ll take him.”
“I said I’ll take him home with me. My husband, Drake, can take care of him while I’m at work.”
“I don’t know, Sheriff. The boy is a suspect in a crime. You can’t have 24-hour, unsupervised access to him.”
“I don’t think he’s a suspect. He may be a material witness, but I don’t think he’s physically capable of committing this crime.”
She had to be careful. She didn’t want to talk about crucial evidence with anyone outside of the department.
“So you’re not charging him?”
“No, but I want him somewhere close by, somewhere safe. Is there a problem with me and my husband fostering him?”
Mandy shook her head.
“I don’t think so. You’re the sheriff, after all. And this is an emergency. We can place him with you, but I’ll have to make some visits to make sure everything is up to standard.”
“That will be fine. I’ll call my husband.”
Drake’s phone rang for a long time, but he finally picked up.
“Hey, babe, what’s up? Are you having fun with Andie?”
She hadn’t had a chance to call him until now. A lump rose in her throat. If she were going to cry, it would be with Drake, but she couldn’t let herself cry here, at the office.
“Something’s happened, Drake.”
“What? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
As the husband of a police officer, he sometimes had a hard time dealing with the risk involved in her job. If she didn’t check in with him, at least once during a shift, he tended to assume the worst. She had called him right before she had left the office, but she hadn’t had a chance to call him before now. Truth was she hadn’t even thought to call him. That was one of the problems that had led them to move. When she worked in Denver, in the homicide unit, she would get so involved with a case that she would forget to call him. By the time she did call him, he would be frantic with worry, wondering where she was and if she were safe.
“I’m fine. It’s Andie.”
“What? Did you two get in an accident?”
“No, Drake, Andie is dead.”
She heard him draw a breath and then he fell silent. After a few seconds, he asked, “What happened?”
She gave him the bare details of what had happened. She couldn’t risk divulging key information, but she told him enough to help him understand the situation.
“I don’t know, Madison. This is a pretty big responsibility. How do you know he’s not the one who did this.”
“He’s too small. Besides…” She paused not knowing how to explain the boy’s hands.
“His hands are deformed.”
“Yeah, he can’t open his fingers and all he can move are his thumbs. The evidence at the scene indicates that the suspect was a large man, not a small boy.”
“All right. Bring him home.”
Elijah was stunned when the sheriff told him he was coming home with her. His face stayed, blank, though. He didn’t want her to know what he was feeling.
She asked him, “Is that all right if you come home with me?”
He nodded his head. He didn’t really have a choice, did he? He didn’t know where else he could go. If he didn’t go with her, would they lock him in a cell? Would they send him to one of those children’s homes his father had told him about? He didn’t know. Without his father around, the world had become uncertain. He didn’t know how to act or what to do.
“All right, then. Let’s go”
The sheriff got up and motioned for him to follow her out of the little room. He was glad to be moving at least. He had gotten tired of sitting in the little box of a room. He didn’t like the big mirror on the wall, having to stare at himself for hours. He shoved his fists into his pockets and followed her into the hallway. They met the big guy that had helped her cuff him at the flower shop. He didn’t like him. He had cold gray eyes that seemed to look through him. The deputy’s eyes reminded him of his father’s eyes. When the deputy looked at him, he looked down at the work brown carpet.
“Are you really going to do this, Madison?” he asked her. His voice was low and sounded mad.
“Hal, I have to. We already talked about this. You’ve seen the evidence. You know this boy couldn’t have done that to Andie.”
Elijah was surprised. She really didn’t think it was him? His father had told him over and over to avoid the police. He said they wouldn’t understand him and that they would blame him as well as his father for the things his father had done. He supposed he was as much to blame. He never tried to stop his father. He never tried to get help for any of the women his father had killed. He just hid and waited for his father to come get him when he was over.
“He’s a material witness and he needs to be somewhere I can keep an eye on him.”
“We have plenty of cells that are available.”
“We can’t hold him without charging him. You know that, Hal.”
Hal signed and rubbed his hand over his face. He looked tired like the Sheriff.
“I suppose you’re right. And you’re the boss.”
“Go home. Hal. You need to get some rest.”
“I’ll go home as soon as I get the evidence ready to send out for testing. I want to send it out first thing in the morning.”
The sheriff nodded.
“All right. I’ll see you in the morning.”
After the sheriff picked up a messenger bag from her office, she walked with Elijah out the front of the station. A large black SUV was parked in a spot right by the door. Mandy was waiting on the sidewalk. Elijah wanted to warn her about waiting outside in the dark. It was a dangerous thing for a woman to do. The shadows surrounded her and he knew that the shadows hid danger.
“Are you all set?” Mandy asked Elijah. He nodded and she gave him a quick hug. He stiffened. He wasn’t used to being hugged. She held out a business card. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and grabbed it between his thumb and the side of his hand, and thrust his hand back into his pocket.
“My number is on that card. You call me if you need anything, okay?”
“Okay, then. I’ll see you in a couple of days to make sure you’ve settled in.”
Mandy turned to the sheriff.
“I’ll call you to set up your first home visit.”
The sheriff nodded.
“Drake is always home. You can talk to him if you can’t get a hold of me.”
Elijah wondered who Drake was. The sheriff must be married. He hadn’t thought of having to deal with a man. He was tough, though. He could deal with anyone. His father had taught him that.
Mandy walked him and the sheriff to the SUV. She hovered over Elijah to see if he needed help, but he was used to taking care of himself. When he was buckled in, Mandy nodded at him and shut the door. She spoke to the sheriff for a few minutes more. Elijah looked at the radio mounted to the dash and the laptop stationed between the two large seats. There was a grill separating the front seat from the back seat in the SUV. He had sat in the backseat of the other SUV. He remembered how the other deputy, Hal, had kept turning and staring at him with those cold eyes. Now, he was sitting in the same seat the deputy had sat in. He turned and looked at the empty seat behind the grill. The sheriff finished her conversation with Mandy and came around the SUV to get into the driver’s seat.
She didn’t say anything to Elijah as she started the SUV and backed out of the space. Mandy stood in the beams of the head lights and waived at Elijah. Then, she turned and started to walk toward a silver car parked a few spaced down. Elijah lost sight of her as the sheriff put the vehicle into drive and headed down the street.
He stood in the shadows outside of the sheriff’s department. It had taken him a while to find it in the dark. He had to stay in the shadows and make sure no one saw him. A young woman came out of the building. Her brown hair shown in the street light, but he did not move. He was satisfied for now, and she was safe. She appeared to be waiting for someone. Maybe, she was a secretary or something and waiting for her husband or boyfriend to pick her up. She was pretty, he had to admit. She was petite, but he had found out first hand that women were too much trouble to deal with. They always wanted something from him, something for themselves. They were selfish. That was their nature. He didn’t have the patience to deal with them long-term. When he wanted a woman, he took one and spent no longer than he needed to satisfy his urge.
Was his boy somewhere in there? Probably in a police cell. Stupid police. They couldn’t see what was right in front of them. There was no way his scrawny boy could do what he could do, he had seen to that, but he figured they were in there celebrating how easy it was to solve this case. After all, the killer was waiting right in the shop with the body. His fists tightened. They better not hurt his boy. He would kill them all if they even touched them.
The woman continued to wait as she checked her watch from time to time. Whoever was coming must be late. She was easy pickings right there in the light. She couldn’t see him across the street in the shadows. The door to the station opened and the woman he had seen at the crime scene stepped out. The boy was following her. Two defenseless women and a boy. He could rush them and grab his boy, but the woman was a cop. She could be armed. He didn’t want the boy to get hurt. They stopped and talked to the other smaller woman. The woman cop was tall with long dark hair. The woman walked them to the SUV parked in the space marked for the sheriff. The small woman helped the boy get into the SUV and then she and the sheriff, apparently, stood talking for a few more minutes. He could hear their voices but not what they said. Then the sheriff got into her SUV and drove away. The woman began walking toward a silver car. She must know something. Maybe, she worked for the sheriff. Whoever she was, she had information that he needed. Now, he knew what he had to do.