Events moved rapidly from that point, though they seemed slow to Jordy and Tris. The boys wanted this to be over; they wanted to be normal teens again and back in school. Jordy had already missed one football game, and his team had lost big—no offense. Both boys had been alternating between scared and terrified, although their times together had balanced those emotions with joy and ecstasy. The circumstances that had brought them very close were generally horrifying, however, and both felt great relief that the danger that had been pursuing them was perhaps now about over.
Garlen called the DA, his friend Alexie Petrakis, and asked him to come to his office that morning. It was only because of their long friendship—they’d been in law school together—that the DA agreed to make the time to come. He was a hard-charging man from humble Greek parents, who’d earned scholarships to enable his education. He was very serious about his job, which made him a very busy man. People came to see him and were often left waiting for hours if they didn’t have appointments; the DA didn’t go to see people who called him; they came to him. He did come to see Garlen, however.
“Alex,” Garlen said, shaking his hand and taking him to the conference room, “thanks so much for coming. I think you’re going to be interested in what you’re going to hear, and you’ll understand why I—well, we—didn’t want to come to your office.”
They entered the conference room, and everyone was introduced. Then Garlen asked Tris to tell his tale.
It took a long time. Jordy, Garlen and Jim broke in at times where it became disjointed, explaining a point or enlarging on one. When they’d said everything they had to relate, both what had happened and speculations of what they thought, Tris had played all the recordings they had.
They’d expected Alex to be shocked at what they presented him. However, he merely smiled at them, sat back in his chair, took a deep breath and, after enjoying their puzzled expressions for a moment, explained. “We had an idea something was going on. I can tell you this, but it’s private; you can’t reveal it.
“We had someone, a boy, come to us last week. He’d escaped from Putnam House. He’d only been there briefly. He told us he’d been on the streets, then picked up and questioned by Mildred Coppinger. He told her he’d run away, that his parents had been killed in an accident in another town, and he’d been put in foster care with an abusive couple. So he’d run, hitched a ride here, then been on the streets till he’d been picked up and sent to Social Services, where Coppinger interviewed him. He explained everything to her, and she got on her phone, turning away from him and speaking softly for a minute. Then she’d turned back to him and said he was free to go! He didn’t understand. He was homeless and was sure he’d be put in a home. Instead, she just told him to go. So he did. He walked out, and before he’d gotten two blocks, a van pulled up alongside him and a man in a ski mask jumped out, grabbed him, threw him into the back, pulled a bag over his head and drove off. The boy’s name is Noah Simons.
“He was taken somewhere and stripped naked, still blindfolded by the bag. He didn’t know why, didn’t know what they were going to do with him. He was scared sh…he was terrified. But all they did was look at him and make comments. He heard voices of the men who’d taken him and some younger ones. Then he was taken to a room with just a bed in it and told he could remove the bag from his head once he heard the door close. He did and found himself alone with another boy.
“That boy explained what was going to happen to him. He explained this was a place boys were sent when they didn’t have anyone looking for them. He’d said, ‘You have a choice, once you’re here. You can become a drug runner. The people here provide heroin and cocaine to clients, and some of the boys who live here are their runners; they deliver the drugs. Or,’ the boy had continued, ‘you can become a sex worker.’ The boy went on, saying that if Noah made that choice, he’d be trained. That they had a woman, several men and boys doing the training, and videos of it all would be made, and he’d be on the internet. The reason he’d been stripped when he’d arrived was to see whether he looked good enough for sex work—they liked their performers to be well-equipped.
“The boy told him he’d passed the looks test.”
Alex grimaced, shook his head, then went on. “Noah was told he had to make one of those choices; if he didn’t and didn’t show that he was glad to perform whatever role he chose, his role would be selected for him. He’d be forced to perform it, and the force would be physical at first—and very unpleasant, especially when the woman was involved. Once he’d been softened up a bit, his loyalty would be assured because he’d be forcibly addicted to heroin. The drug runners were all given shots of heroin until they became addicted to the drug before they were sent out to make their deliveries. The addiction guaranteed they’d come back so they could get their next fix. Once addicted, they always came back.”
Alex stood up and walked to the credenza, took a glass and poured himself some water, which he drank down without pausing. It was easy to see from his body language how upsetting, how disgusting he found this. When he was again seated, he said, “The sex workers were told they had to show they were happy doing what they were doing, making videos with other boys and also serving clients who were brought in for them. If not, they were punished and eventually removed from the sex operations, forcibly addicted and then used as runners. Or, forced into doing something much worse.”
He stopped. The room was dead quiet until he finally shook himself and started in again.
“This boy, Noah, was given one day to decide. During that day he was free to roam the house he was in, but of course not leave. It was a building housing many boys. There were two sections of the house, one for the group he was in, the boys who were going to be put to work earning their captors large sums of money, and the boys who were there legitimately. The two groups were separate. He learned all about this division by talking to some of the other boys. He said he thought they let new boys learn what was what this way to make it seem less frightening, less awful.
“He learned that he was in a place called Putnam House. He also saw two guys in police uniforms—big, tough guys—who kept order and disciplined the working boys when necessary. He was told not to mess with them, that their punishments were brutal.
“Noah had escaped from his foster home by picking the lock on his door there. He had learned how to do that out of necessity. Late at night the day he’d been caught, he managed to do the same on the door to the room he was being kept in at Putnam. He looked for the two cops, but they weren’t around. There was a guard at a desk by the front door, but he was in no shape to catch anyone. He’d managed to get into some of the product they moved; he was a coke user, and he’d had too much that night to function. Noah had made it to the front door and then out.
“This kid was smart. He put together the fact Coppinger had let him walk free—which is something a legit social worker never would have done—and his being taken off the street such a short time later. He didn’t know what to do now he was out of Putnam House but didn’t want to go to the cops. He’d seen the two cops at Putnam and didn’t think it safe to go anywhere near a policeman.
“So he came to us. Amazing, but he did, just the way you guys did. So no, I’m not surprised at your story. But very thankful, because you’re filling in some blanks, and with Noah Simons’ testimony, Jim’s audit results and the bugs, we have enough evidence to start arresting people. Once we do that, we’ll get a lot more. Rats always squeal on each other. So even if some misguided judge were to throw out the recordings you made for lack of a warrant, we’ll still have all the corroboration we’ll need.
“Guys, we’ll take it from here. I’d suggest you stay here today. We’ll take everyone you’ve named off the streets, including our august chief of police, and I don’t think you’ll have anything to fear from anyone else after I have a press conference where I’ll name names when we’ve got them all in custody. I’ll announce we have solid evidence for conviction of those named and that we’re busy collecting more evidence and more names. If there’s anyone we didn’t nab, they’ll be flying out of here like, what’s the expression, rats deserting a sinking ship. That’s just what this whole affair is now, a sinking ship. Probably by late this afternoon, you’ll be safe to go about your normal lives.”
Alexei Petrakis held his press conference at 5 PM, announcing the arrests of Austin Burrows, Ben Cooley, Marvin Tarpley, Mildred Coppinger, Charles Adams and Samuel Thomasen on various charges up to and including murder. He stated the investigation was continuing but these arrests were for the main participants in a scheme that also involved city funds being siphoned off as illegal graft, child trafficking, arson, narcotics trafficking, and abuse of police authority. Those arrested would be arraigned the following day, and he’d be asking that no bail be allowed for any of them as they were all felt to be serious threats to the community and flight risks.
Jim, Garlen, Jordy and Tris were all in attendance at the press conference, but they sat with several others at the back of the room. No notice was taken of them.
When it was over, Jordy asked Jim, “What now?”
“Find a hotel, I guess. We’re homeless, you know.”
“But not financially ruined,” Garlen said. “The city has a victims’ support program. Actually, Alex was the one who created it. He grew up in a very poor neighborhood. His parents were Greek immigrants and had a hard time getting settled in a new country. They saw crimes committed in their neighborhood, and Alex saw how the families affected by them suffered. Now, victims of crime are supported financially as they put their lives back together. There will be money for your food and housing bills until this is settled.
“Also, there’s a victims’ relief program where you can sue the courts for some settlement money if the principals are found guilty. You can get payback from their estates for your losses and even for pain and suffering you experienced at their hands. That’ll take awhile, but I’m already having their assets frozen.”
“Wow! So we’ll be rich?” Jordy asked.
Jim laughed. “I doubt that. Any money coming from the city will come in partial payments. Some of it may take years in coming, especially if any is contested by lawyers for the perps. Meanwhile, I’ll contact my insurance company. We should see cash coming for the house a lot sooner than that.”
“Uh, someone said something about a hotel?” Tris said. “I’m ready for that. And dinner. I’m starving.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Jim laughed. “I forgot you guys were 15. And you haven’t had anything to eat for over two hours. Your stomachs must be concave by now.”
They drove to a hotel which was located close enough to the school so the boys could easily walk there in the morning. They checked in and said goodbye to Garlen. They all shook his hand and were profuse in thanking him for his help throughout their worries.
They had two rooms with a connecting door. They settled in, and Jim asked them what they wanted to do.
“We need to buy some clothes,” Jordy said, “and eat, and then finish up some homework for school tomorrow.”
“Want to go downstairs for food first? The restaurant here is pretty good.”
“That or room service,” Jordy said. “Tris?”
“I’m kinda beat. I think it’s all the nervous days we’ve just had. How about room service, then just relax in front of the TV tonight? Early bed. And then tomorrow we skip school, at least in the morning, and do our shopping then. Another half day won’t matter. I’m not really up to shopping tonight. Not up for anything but crashing.”
Jordy turned to Jim. “That sounds best to me, too. How about it?”
“That’s fine. They usually have a room-service menu on the desk. Let’s check.”
They ended up doing what Tris had suggested. Even going to bed early. They had a king-sized bed in their room, but that much space wasn’t necessary. The boys ended up sleeping wrapped around each other. A twin bed would have sufficed.
As Jim, Tris, Jordy and Garlen had been meeting with the DA, Ben Cooley had been sitting in his Town Hall office, stewing. They’d managed to burn down Jim Redford’s house, but he had no idea if that had destroyed the evidence against him he was sure the bugs had picked up. He was feeling his whole world collapsing in on him. It had started, like many of the bad things in his life, with his son. First the son of a bitch had turned out queer, then he’d escaped from the control Ben had had over him by forcing him to live in the garage with little time for anything but work, then the fucker had bugged his house, and now, well, who knew what? He just had a feeling it might be all over for him.
What he should do, he knew, was run. He had a stash of cash in his safety-deposit box. A very large cache! The thing was, if the fire had done what they hoped it would do, he was still OK. Sure, his son and the guy he was staying with might have heard him saying things, but anyone trying to prove any of it would be hard pressed to succeed. It would most likely be impossible. How would they prove he’d offed that Marco kid? No way they could, but him talking about it on a recording might well be enough for a jury to fry him when the whole scheme came out into the open.
No, he was surely safe. If the recordings had somehow survived the fire, he could say Mildred liked to play games, and that’s all the recordings were: hard evidence that the two of them were acting silly. There was absolutely no truth behind any of it. He was a respected city employee! He’d never be involved in anything like that!
So he should be safe. But why not play it safer? Yeah, why not run? Why even have to go through a messy trial that would cost him his job even if he was found not guilty? Wouldn’t that be the smart thing to do? Just run?
He mused and considered, and then thought, OK, he would run. Why take even a minimal chance? Nope, he was leaving. He was so out of here! He figured he had at least a day or so before he needed to scoot, though, long enough to get an idea what was what. Long enough to remove any compromising files from his office and destroy them—along with his computer’s hard drive. He only needed a day to do all that, to prepare for his exit. Marv should be able to fend off any inquiries till then. Marv would be happy to do that. Marv was safer himself if Ben lit out. If push came to shove, if there were indictments, Marv could blame it all on Ben.
But he still had today to clean things up, maybe longer. Law enforcement, especially the several agencies that could come after them, tended to work slowly, ponderously. He needed to act, however, not just sit here bemoaning what that fucking bastard of a son of his had done.
He looked at the files he had on his desk, thought of the ones he had in its drawers, and a sense of fatigue overwhelmed him for a moment. He realized there was a lot of incriminating crap there, some just suggestive, some showing actual illegal activities. He’d had too much hubris keeping all that around. He could see that now. It was going to be a job getting rid of everything in his office, carrying stacks and stacks of files out. He realized how easy the fire was at Jim’s house. Why not here? Be a lot easier.
He was sitting, pondering this, thinking what he really needed to do was get moving rather than sitting still. Get to the bank and his safety-deposit box there. Clean it out. That came first. Then get something to make sure his files all burned, set the fire and fly away.
It had taken awhile, but he’d finally made his decision, one he felt good about. He was rising from his chair when two burly men walked into his office, not bothering to knock. He saw his secretary hovering outside, looking both worried and impotent.
“Benjamin Cooley, we’re from the DA’s office and have a warrant for your arrest,” said one of them in a loud voice. “Stand up.”
The other man had a pair of handcuffs dangling from one finger, looking like he was taunting Ben with them.
Ben sat still, looking on in wonder. Really? So soon? How could that be?
“Now!” said the first man. Both he and the other were in plain clothes, but both had gold badges showing, clipped on their belts. They also had handguns in plain sight holstered on their belts as well.
Ben thought, if I had a gun, I could shoot these fuckers. They wouldn’t be expecting that. But he knew the only gun he owned was at his house. Lot of good that would do him here.
Both men started walking toward his desk, the man with the handcuffs smiling. The other looked at him and said, “Don’t we love it when they don’t cooperate.”
Ben stood up.
“Behind your back,” the man with the cuffs insisted. Ben complied, moving his arms behind him, and was cuffed. He was given his Miranda warning, and then, with a man on each side of him, each with a hand around one of his biceps, he was marched unceremoniously out of the office, down the hall, outside and across the street for everyone that was there to see. The courthouse was right there, across from Town Hall, and they walked up the steps and into it, then took the elevator down to the basement where the holding cells were located. He was led inside one, the handcuffs removed, and he was told he’d be arraigned in the morning.
The next day, a bailiff arrived to take Ben for his arraignment upstairs in the courthouse. Ben hadn’t slept at all. The humiliation of being walked out of Town Hall and over to the courthouse in cuffs kept playing back through his mind. He regretted the time he’d taken making his decision to chuck it all, to simply leave with what he had in his safety-deposit box. He’d been so close! So, so close.
His son and what the fucker had done to him had been in his mind, too, along with thoughts of what his life would be like now and maybe how short it would be. Those thoughts had taken their toll. No sleep, anxiety, despair, anger—they were all mixed together, and Ben wasn’t the same man coming out of the cell he’d been going in, not physically, and even less so mentally.
Perhaps surprisingly, however, he didn’t come out of his cell a defeated man. He came out a profoundly angry and focused one. He would come through this, he promised himself. He’d faced worse in his life. He’d find a way. He always had. If you kept your wits about you, an opportunity always appeared.
A night in a cell hadn’t robbed him of the cunning that had been such a part of him over the years. His mind might not be as stable as it had been; he was aware of this. But he had one principal thought now: to get away. After that, who knew? Sure, he’d like to avenge himself on the source of all his problems, his goddamn son. But getting free—that was his objective now, the totality of his existence. Get free. Find a way.
He realized, after hours of turmoil, that he’d have to give up all hope for the life he’d been expecting to have when he eventually quit this city with all the money he’d squirreled away over the years from the Putnam House endeavors. He knew that was gone now, knew any of the life he’d dreamed of was all over for him. But that was behind him and of no moment; he couldn’t think about it. Escape was the only thing in his mind.
The bailiff, a city employee, was known to Ben, just like most city employees were. Even with Ben’s mind still swirling with the thoughts that had occupied him all night, he still managed to make his voice sound normal.
“Hey, Cliff. How are you this morning?”
Cliff was unlocking his cell. “Hello, Ben. I couldn’t believe it when they told me you were in here. I’m supposed to take you upstairs for an arraignment hearing. Doesn’t seem possible.”
Ben shook his head, but kept his eyes up, looking right into Cliff’s, knowing he was keeping his thoughts invisible. “It’s all a mistake, Cliff. They somehow got me confused with a bunch of guys ripping off the city. I dealt with those guys every day but wasn’t in on what they were doing. I was as surprised as everyone else when they arrested me. It’s a mistake, and I’ll prove it easily enough. You know me. Hell, I got you this job when your mandatory retirement came up with the police department. I help people in this city; I don’t steal from them.”
Cliff swung the door open. “I know that, Ben. I know that. I’m sure you’ll be free in an hour or so. They can’t have evidence that you did something you didn’t do. And I’m sorry about this, but I have to put these cuffs on you, and a chain around your waist to attach to them. Standard procedure. I know this isn’t necessary for you, but I’d get in trouble if I didn’t do it.”
“No, that’s fine, Cliff. You need to do what you need to do. I do have a favor to ask, however. I got to take a dump really bad. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it in here, exposed to all the others down the line here. I wonder, could you take me to a john with some privacy? I’m not going to try to run or anything. That would be silly when I’ll be let go by the judge right after I get to the court. But can we walk to the john without the chains? You’d just have to take them off again so I could do my business. Could you do me that favor?”
Cliff thought, then said, “Sure, Ben. You helped me out, and this is much less than what you did for me. Come on. I’ll show you where.”
Cliff walked beside Ben to a basement restroom off a corridor near a stairway leading upward. Ben entered the restroom alone and closed the door. There was no way out other than the door, no way to escape. Still, Ben was neither cuffed nor chained. A small victory, but something to feel good about.
He looked around for something to use as a weapon. There was a paper-towel dispenser, but he couldn’t see how he could use that for anything even if he had a way to remove it from the wall, which he didn’t. Nor were the fittings on the sinks of any use to him. He looked at the toilet. Perhaps he could have broken the tank lid and secured a sharp-edged piece to attack Cliff with, but this toilet had a flush valve attached to a pipe coming out of the wall; no tank, no lid to smash.
Then he looked at the roll of toilet paper which was mostly gone with another roll on the floor as a replacement. Quickly, he pulled the remaining paper off the used roll, removed the spring-loaded metal dowel holding the roll in place and discarded the cardboard tube the paper had been on. The dowel was about an inch in diameter with the ends about half that. Ben smiled.
He flushed the toilet, ran some water into the lavatory for a couple of seconds, turned it off and opened the door to the hallway. Cliff was standing there, waiting.
“I’ll have to cuff and chain you now. I’m sorry, Ben.”
“You’re just doing your job, Cliff. Do you want me to turn around?”
Cliff was opening his mouth to answer when Ben struck. Using the toilet-paper-dispenser dowel, he viciously slammed the small end into Cliff’s temple. The man collapsed to the floor, either dead or unconscious. Ben didn’t really care which.
Moving quickly, he dragged Cliff into the restroom and behind where the door would open, hoping he wouldn’t be found too soon. He took the man’s wallet and was disappointed to only find thirty dollars in it. He’d been hoping for a lot more. Then Ben simply walked out. He was thankful he was still in his own clothes; they didn’t have arrestees change into prison gear until after they’d been arraigned. But the downside was, he was more recognizable in a suit than he would be in different clothes.
He wanted to be wearing jeans, a tee shirt and a ball cap. As it was, he was a fairly well-known figure in town, especially in the downtown area where he was now. He’d been on TV, usually with his boss at his side, and his picture had often been in the newspaper. In every picture, he was wearing a suit and tie. Now, he wanted to get out of these clothes as soon as possible. He had to change his appearance.
Even that wouldn’t make too much difference, he knew. But it would be a start, and that was all he needed. He might be caught, but maybe not, too. This was what he wanted: a chance. He was good at taking advantage of small breaks, and that was what he’d do now.
The courthouse was in the center of the city, which was also where many high-end retail
stores were located. He climbed the stairs from the basement, left the building through a side
door that only opened from inside and so wasn’t guarded, and headed for a department
store he knew but a short distance away. He kept his head down, trying to keep his face from
At breakfast, Jim asked the boys if they wanted to go to the arraignment.
Jordy and Tris looked at each other, and then Tris answered. “What I want is to forget all about all of that. I just want to go shopping, get some clothes, and go to school. I want everything to be normal again.”
Jordy nodded. “I agree. The sooner we can forget about all this, the better.”
Tris finished his cup of cocoa and put it down. “Are the stores open yet?” he asked Jim.
“Not at the mall, but the downtown ones will be opening in—” he stopped to glance at his watch “—fifteen minutes. You can get better stuff there, anyway. Here, take my credit card and buy whatever you want.”
Tris hesitated, and Jordy grabbed the card, grinning. He stood up. “Let’s go,” he said, and Tris joined him, walking out of the hotel.
The downtown business and shopping district was only ten blocks away, and it would take about the quarter hour they had before the stores opened to walk that distance. They set out, discussing what clothes they should buy. Jordy was talking an entire wardrobe, while Tris kept reminding him that whatever they bought, they’d have to carry back to the hotel.
At one point, Jordy took Tris’s hand. Tris looked down at their hands, then up at Jordy. “Really?” he asked.
“Really. I’m tired of being closeted and proud as anything that you’re my boyfriend. I want people to know.”
Tris squeezed his hand, and didn’t let go. “Works for me,” he said, and they both laughed.