The silence in the car was smothering but Madison didn’t know what to say. How do you make small talk with a boy who had been sitting by a corpse just a few hours earlier? Besides, he probably wouldn’t answer her anyway. He was good at staying quiet. She stole a look at him out of the corner of her eye. His head was nodding as he struggled to keep his eyes open. His hands were still shoved in the pockets of his hoodie. She wondered about his hands. How had that happened? Was he born that way? When she cuffed him, she could see that he had all his fingers, but they seemed to be permanently curled into fists.
Mandy had said that Madison and Drake would need to take him to the doctor as soon as possible. That would be interesting. She didn’t know anything about him. She didn’t know his name or how old he was. What was she supposed to tell the doctor? She hoped that as he got to know her and Drake, he would trust them enough to at least tell them his name. What was she supposed to call him? Boy? That seemed heartless, but she calling him a pet name, like honey or sweetheart didn’t feel right either.
She cleared her throat. As she adjusted the heat, she asked, “Are you warm enough?”
The boy started a little and then nodded.
“I can turn the heat up if you want.”
The boy shook his head no.
“We’re almost there. We only live a few minutes out of town.”
The boy nodded, but still didn’t speak. He continued to stare out of the window, and, soon, his eyelids began to drop again. She wondered when the last time was that he had gotten a good sleep, or meal for that matter. He had wolfed down the sandwich and chips Mandy had brought him like he hadn’t eaten in a long time. She wondered what to do when she got him home. Should she offer him more food? He desperately needed a bath. She could smell him from the driver’s seat and the heat wasn’t helping matters, but she was used to strong odors. As a former homicide detective, she had dealt with a many gruesome death scenes and their accompanying odors. At least, body odor meant someone was alive.
By the time, she pulled into their driveway his head had fallen against the window and he was asleep. She drove down the tree-lined drive until she reached the two-car garage. The garage door was open and she could see Drake silhouetted against the light from the kitchen as he stood in the door leading from the garage into the house. She pulled slowly into the garage next to Drake’s Jeep. The garage light came on as she pressed the button on the garage door opener. Gently, she shook the boy’s shoulder.
He jumped up with a cry. His voice was hoarse as if he didn’t use it very often. At least, she knew he had a voice.
“It’s okay. We’re home.”
The boy shook his eyes and looked out the window. Drake was approaching the passenger side door and the boy frowned at him.
“That’s Drake. He’s my husband.”
Drake opened the door.
“Hey, buddy. My name is Drake.”
Drake had a way with people, including kids. With his large blue eyes and curly brown hair, he oozed charm. There weren’t many people he couldn’t make like him. Even Hal, who was even more anti-social than she was, liked to hang out with Drake. He had taken Drake hiking and mountain-biking several times. While she had been stymied over what to call the boy, Drake had naturally come up with a name that didn’t sound forced or insincere. She supposed “Buddy” was as good a name as any until they figured out what the boy’s real name was.
The boy slid a hand out of his pocket and clicked the seat belt off. He seemed to get along with his damaged hands. He had no trouble picking up the food he had been given at the office. Ignoring Drake’s hand, he slid out of the tall SUV and backed away from Drake. She saw him look back toward the closed garage door. Was he thinking of making a run for it? Already? She got out of the SUV and used the starter remote to lock the car and set the alarm.
She came around the SUV to stand beside Drake. She wanted to slide against Drake’s broad chest and let him hold her, but she felt awkward in front of the kid. The boy looked at her and Drake with solemn dark eyes. Drake slid his arm around her waist and she had to settle for a little side hug.
“I just made some chili. Are you two hungry?”
Even though she hadn’t eaten all day, Madison wasn’t hungry. When she worked homicides in Denver, she often forgot to eat. The boy’s pinched face and hollow eyes told her that he was probably still hungry.
“I’m starved. How about you…buddy?” She stumbled over the nickname but it wasn’t too bad.
The boy nodded.
Drake stepped away from Madison to show the boy the door.
“Let’s eat. The kitchen is through that door. We’ll eat after you two wash up.”
The boy climbed the steps leading up to the kitchen from the garage. He paused when he reached the doorway and stopped to look around the room. He seemed to be looking for danger as if he expected someone to jump out at him. Drake and Madison held back letting him take his time. Finally, he took a deep breath and stepped into the golden light of their kitchen. Madison and Drake followed him into the house.
Madison showed the boy the guest bathroom just around the corner from the kitchen.
Turning the light on for him, she said, “You can wash up in here.”
He turned and looked at her.
“We’ll be in the kitchen.”
The boy went into the bathroom and closed the door.
Madison returned to the kitchen and washed her own hands in the kitchen sink. She was looking forward to a warm shower. When she was working a case, she often felt as if she couldn’t get clean, as if the dirt from the crime scene clung to her. Drake came up behind her as she wiped her hands on the red-checked kitchen towel. She turned and leaned into him. Exhaling his spicy scent, she rested against him for a moment.
“I’m sorry, Madison,” Drake murmured against her hair. She nodded and took a shuddering breath. She wanted to cry into his shirt, but the boy would be back any second. She contented herself with the brief hug and then stepped away from Drake. His blue eyes looked blood-shot and his skin was stained with tears.
“We’ll talk after we take care of…”
“You don’t know his name?” Drake asked.
“No, he won’t talk. I think Buddy might work until we can get him to open up.”
They heard the bathroom door open, and then the boy stepped back into the kitchen.
“Hey, buddy? Are you hungry?”
The boy looked at Drake.
“Is it all right if I call you, buddy? I don’t know your name.”
The boy nodded his head.
Drake tried again. “Can you tell us your name?”
The boy shook his head and began to scowl.
“That’s fine,” said Madison, “We’ll just call you Buddy until you’re ready to tell us your name.”
The boy relaxed and stared at the table. The table looked warm and inviting with three red bowls heaped with chili. Large bowls of sour cream and tortilla chips were set in the middle of the table and Drake had completed the setting with large glasses of milk. Madison looked at the milk and then toward the fridge. She really wanted a beer, but she supposed it would look bad if she started drinking five minutes after she brought the boy home.
They sat down together and began to eat. The boy had no trouble scooping the cheese out of the bowl with a spoon. He looked at the chips with longing as he began to shovel chili into his mouth. Drake noticed and sprinkled some crushed chips on top of the boy’s chili.
“Do you want some sour cream?”
The boy made a face and continued to eat. Drake smiled.
“I didn’t like sour cream either when I was your age, but it’s the best on chili,” Drake said as he spooned sour cream onto his own chili.
Madison picked at her chili and ate as much as she could. She kept picturing Andie and smelling the odors of the crime scene. She swallowed a few bites of chili and washed it down with the cold milk. She saw the boy eyeing the milk with a frown. Drake noticed, too.
“Now, I’ll have to draw the line at the milk. Milk is good for you. Give it a try.”
The boy picked up the glass with both of his fists and took a sip. He smacked his lips a little and then downed half the glass.
Drake smiled at him. “I knew you would like it.”