It was the kind of neighborhood where even the air cost seven figures. Manicured lawns, mansions that started at three stories high, security cameras on every light pole, and an army of armed guards. We were following one of those guards that night. Bowron drove slowly behind the golf cart as it puttered through the little streets with too-cute names. I sat in the passenger seat and stared out the window.
“Look,” said Bowron. “They got a Ronald Reagan Drive.”
“I wonder where MLK Drive is.”
“On another fucking planet,” Bowron laughed. "We ain't on Earth anymore, Jones. Welcome to Planet Money."
I thought back to how I’d ended up here. It was late that Friday night, Bowron and I were preparing to end our eight-hour shift when Turner himself called us to his smoky corner office.
“Sergeant Bowron, Detective Jones,” he rapsed. “I know the two of you are on the way out, but I need you on a call. It’s...going to require a delicate touch.”
“Look no further, sir,” Bowron said a little too bright for my taste. “Whatever you need. Discretion is our middle name, right, John?”
“Just so,” I said neutrally.
The assistant chief grunted and reached for the smoldering cigar in the ashtray on his desk.
“Either of you familiar with the Maddox family?”
And we went from there. Turner gave Bowron the address and we headed to the outskirts of the city. The community was a gated one. We had to flash our badges and be approved by the Maddox family before the guards even let us in and then we were to be escorted. I took note of the security measures each step of the way. If what Turner told us was true, then I knew the first questions to ask.
“Look at this,” Bowron said as we pulled into the driveway. The four-story Spanish style mansion was lit up, every window facing the road had a soft glow of light behind it. “Turner said the house was small.”
“I guess it is,” I said. “If you compare it to Buckingham Palace.”
The security guard led us to the front door. A bulky man in an off-the-rack suit and tie opened the door. His blazer was baggy, but not baggy enough to hide the bulge of a shoulder holster and gun. I pegged him as either ex-cop or military.
“Wideman,” he said without offering a hand. “Mind if I see some ID, officers?”
Bowron and I flashed our badges. One he was satisfied, it was his turn to lead us along. We followed him through a foyer that could double as a two-car garage, and down a maze of long hallways. Finally, Wideman lead us into the empty study.
Amidst the shelves packed with books, there was what looked like a shrine to the home's owner. Photos of Charles Maddox shaking hands with the last three US Presidents, one of him in New York ringing the stock exchange bell, a cover of a financial magazine with a younger looking Maddox on the cover. Photos of family accompanied the ones of achievement, but Maddox was always in the middle of whatever was going on. That didn't surprise me at all. A man like that had to be center of attention in everything he did. For guys like Charles Maddox, if you weren't first you might as well have been last.
Charles Maddox stood at the entrance to the study. He was nearly as tall as me and thin, with salt and pepper hair, a sharp face, and even sharper eyes. Those eyes though were dulled by tears. I saw he had a piece of paper in his hand, he clutched it as if wringing it would achieve something.
“It’s my daughter.”
He held up the paper and I saw it: a crude message made out in cut out and pasted letters.
“She’s been kidnapped.”
There was a light drizzle out that night. Seattle’s reputation as a rainy city is a little overblown. While other cities get more rainfall, Seattle gets more than its share of light rains like this one. I had the collar of my raincoat turned up to ward off the rain.
It was just after last call and closing at Staccato’s. Momo paid me my flat nightly rate and it, plus the generous tips in the jar, meant I wouldn’t have to choose between eating and keeping power on in my apartment. Tucked under my shoulder was a manila folder, given to me by Bowron. I made my way to the Nite-Owl and found my usual booth waiting fo rme.
“What’ll it be, John?” Patty asked as I slid in.
“The usual,” I said. “How is the Oreo pie tonight?”
“Like me: dried out and sad.”
I smiled. “There’s no such thing as a bad Oreo. I’ll take a slice.”
I waited until she was gone before I cracked open the folder. The tattooed young man staring back at me was a stranger. Even though a decade had passed, I still knew what Caleb had looked like back then. I saw just a trace of the little boy in the mugshot in front of me.
Caleb’s record read like a lot of people who are caught up in drugs. Arrests for petty theft, drug possession, a few assaults. Because of his family’s wealth and influence he never did anything approaching hard time. In and out of rehab facilities that the typical addict couldn’t afford. A six month stretch in a juvenile facility three years earlier.
I thought back again to the boy I once knew. More than most people, and for obvious reasons, I tended to ruminate on things like fate. Can we really change our future, or has it been ordained before we're even born? Was this path of petty crime and addiction Caleb’s fate? Or had something facilitated it? There’s no doubt that that night all those years ago had left mental scars on the boy. As it had me, Bowron, and even his parents. I had responded by retreating from the world, Bowron sought justification in making rank. The Maddoxs? I don’t want to talk about how it effected him. Maybe this was how Caleb dealt with it?
“Here you go, hon,” Patty said as she plopped the coffee and pie in front of me.
If she took notice of the file in front of me, she had neglected to comment on it. I took a bite of the pie and immediately agreed with Patty’s earlier assessment: dried out and sad. But still… An Oreo was an Oreo. I took another bite and checked my watch. Almost three in the morning. Plenty of time to hit up skid row and see what kind of stories I could get from the Night People.