The Busboy by Cole Parker

Jim wants to rescue a kid in trouble. He has no idea what comes next.

Chapter 10

At Antonio’s, Jordy and Jim couldn’t stop talking, as though the adrenaline they’d been running on since first the fight and then the visit to the police station needed an outlet. Jim and Garlen Beeks had accompanied them to the restaurant. Jim had called his attorney to come to the police station while Jordy and Tris were being questioned; Garlen had sat in on the interviews.

While Jordy and Jim were talking at, their words bumping into each other in their stress-relieving outpouring, Tris was quiet and pensive. Garlen, too, was listening rather than joining in.

When they reached a momentary lull, Jordy looked at Garlen and asked, “Can I tell you something that I kept from the police?”

Garlen sat up a little straighter. “You didn’t tell them everything?”

“No, I thought—”

“Hold it. Yes, you can tell me, but let’s make it a privileged conversation. That’ll protect both of us. Give me a dime or a quarter or something.”

Jordy laughed. “I thought it was a dollar. I always see on TV where this shyster asks for a dollar.”

Garlen wasn’t laughing but did manage a tight grin. “Anything at all so I can say I was retained as counsel; contracts need consideration to be valid. That quarter is called consideration. It’ll also be given here in front of witnesses who, by the way, are safe to hear what you have to say because testimony from them in court would be inadmissible as hearsay.”

Jordy lost his grin and reached in his pocket, pulled out a quarter and handed it to Garlen.

“OK, what did you ‘forget’ to tell the police?”

“I just told them I used the bat to put one guy out of four down when I could. I figured doing that would at least slow down the other three. If they rushed me together, I was done. If they were more tentative, I had a chance. At least the police bought that.”

He stopped. The others were all looking at him. He frowned. “That was actually all true. I just left out the rest of it. I was totally pissed. These guys were after Tris. They had to be. They’d have no reason at all to go after me unless maybe they were from a rival school we played football against. But I’ve just begun playing here and am just one of many offensive players. It would be crazy to attack me for that; it didn’t make any sense. If they were nuts enough to do something like that, maybe our QB would be targeted, but not me.

“And an attack wouldn’t be for money. How many high-school kids walking home from school have enough money with them to justify an attack that could end up with those guys in jail? So it had to be that the target was Tris. And that pissed me off. They had no reason to be after Tris on their own, which meant someone had sent them. I wanted to know who that was. And also why, but I didn’t have time for why. Only for who.”

“And you found that out?” That came from Jim.

“Yeah. That’s what I withheld from the police. I broke the kid’s arm, then told him I was going to break the other if he didn’t tell me who’d sent him. I didn’t give him a chance to think about it. I pretended to start swinging the bat, and he said that Mr. Burrows and Ms. Coppinger told him to get some other Putnam kids and grab Tris. Well, he didn’t know Tris’s name, but that’s who he meant. He was scared, and I know he was telling the truth. He didn’t have time to make anything up. Do any of you know a Mr. Burrows?”

No one did. They all looked at each other with blank faces. Then Jim asked, “Why would she do that?” just as Garlen was asking, “Why did you hold that back from the police?”

Jordy answered Garlen. “It’s all too weird. We don’t know what’s going on, but something is. That Coppinger woman comes to our house and tries to kidnap Tris. We…you, actually, stopped her. So she sets a pack of guys on us, meaning to grab Tris. Why? Why is it so important to grab him? And who is Mr. Burrows? I didn’t have answers for any of that; I still don’t, but didn’t want the police involved until we do.”

“Why not? Wouldn’t that make him safer?”

“I think I know.” Everyone turned to look at Tris, who’d been silent until then. He met their eyes. “He was protecting me.”

“Huh? How?” Jim asked, frowning. He felt he was two steps behind. He didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, not understanding a lot. It wasn’t a feeling he liked.

Tris didn’t seem to be suffering from that confusion at all. “What happens in this city when a kid is in trouble, or there’s a custody battle or he’s lost or drugged out or whatever? He gets shoved into Putnam until the adults have worked out what to do with him. And when we were at the police station, before you got there, Jim, Jordy had already had to tell his story at least once, maybe twice. What would have happened to me if he told them that Coppinger had sent those boys after us? What if they knew this Burrows guy and he is some big shot and it would have made Jordy’s story seem crazy to them—or knew him as a bad guy? Either one.”

The shoe dropped for Jim. “They’d not have known what was what with you. They’d have called your father, like they did, and not been able to get in touch with him, and while they might have let Jordy go in my care, they’d have held Tris, if for no other reason than his own safety, until they’d looked into the situation. The place where they hold kids is Putnam. They’d have thought he’d be safe there. That’s what they’d do. It was only because I showed up with the foster authorization for you and because Jordy hadn’t said anything about Coppinger and this Burrows guy that they didn’t realize this was anything more than a random mugging—that’s why they released you.”

“I’m not letting him go to Putnam if I can help it,” Jordy said. He clenched his jaw after speaking. Tris scooted over on the booth seat to be nearer to him.

“Well, we have a problem,” Garlen said. “If the cops don’t know of the threat that Tris is under, they can’t protect him. But if we tell them, they’ll probably try to get him into Putnam for his own safety, which would be exactly the wrong outcome for Tris. So, we need to protect him ourselves. We need to talk about how to do that. We have to figure out what’s going on and get it stopped.”

“That’s what’s critical,” said Tris. “We have to find out what this is all about.”

Tris moved his upper body away from Jordy for a moment. “You guys really don’t know me very well. But this—working out a problem, figuring it out, making a plan—that’s all stuff I’m good at.” He paused to take a deep breath. “Jim told me when we first met that I was smart. Maybe I am, I don’t know. But I do know I’m a really logical thinker and good at solving complex problems. Except in math!” He almost grinned but didn’t. What he was doing was meeting the eyes around the table. “What I’m saying is, I want to be included in helping with this, this whatever-it-is that we’re in the middle of. I think I can help. I know I can help, and I want to.”

Garlen looked at Jim, who looked back, and they both nodded.

“Me, too,” said Jordy.

“Where should we begin?” Garlen asked, looking around the table.

“We begin by keeping Tris out of harm’s way,” Jim stated. “I think he’ll be safe at school.”

“We don’t know that,” Garlen said. “Let’s look at the hypothetical. We know Coppinger is involved. Tris thinks maybe his dad might be involved. Do we agree with that?”

He looked around the table and saw three nods, an emphatic one from Tris. “OK, then, those two for sure, and this Burrows. Does it stop there? We don’t know. But let’s not just assume it does. Let’s assume there are others. Well, perhaps the cops. Probably not all, but some of them may be involved. It wouldn't be safe for us not to assume that, would it?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. “So, if some of them are in this, and Tris were at school, what would happen if, say, a police sergeant showed up and said Tris was needed for questioning in the case against the kid Jordy waylaid? That they only needed him for an hour and they’d bring him back in time for lunch? The sergeant could even claim Tris’s father had been contacted and had agreed. The school probably wouldn’t think to argue; they’d have Tris come to the office, and the cop would just walk out with him. Perhaps take him directly to Putnam. So no, I don’t think we can assume he’d be safe at school. I think you, Jim, have to call the school, remind them that you’re his emergency foster parent, and then give an excuse for him to be absent for a period of time. You have any idea what you could say to get him released for a week or so while we’re figuring this out?”

I do.” Tris sat up straighter. “Since I’m in temporary, emergency foster care, it would make sense for Jim or me to be looking for a relative who’d want to take me in. You could tell them we’d found someone, an aunt maybe, who lives a ways from here and you’re sending me to stay with her for a week or so to see how that goes.”

“OK, I can do that,” Jim agreed. “But what then? Why couldn’t that same policeman come to my house and take him? Hard to say no to a cop, with or without a warrant, and he could have one.”

“Yes. Good point.” Garlen moved his eyes to Tris. “We have to move you.”

Tris shook his head. “I want to be involved in figuring this all out. I’ve got the biggest stake in this, so I can’t be off in the wilderness somewhere. I need to be close enough to help out. OK, find a place that’s safe but close.”

“Yes, close.” Jordy was shaking his head. “I need to be able to see him, know he’s OK, be there if needed. If they figure out where Tris is, I want to be there.”

“So, where?” Garlen asked.

They thought, and Jim finally smiled. “I know,” he said.

Mildred Coppinger was at Ben Cooley’s house. She’d parked down the street a ways so no one would see her car near his house. She walked down the driveway, then to the back yard. She opened the gate, closed it, and went to the back door. There, she entered without knocking. She found Ben sitting at the kitchen table, a bottle of single malt scotch next to him, an almost empty glass in his hand.

She stopped to look at him, then asked sarcastically, “So, did you do it? Or did you chicken out?”

The two of them were partners but had a very scratchy relationship, both frequently criticizing the other, both feeling the other was the weak one in the relationship. It was only their common interests that kept them at all civil and cooperative.

There were two interests in common that were important to them both. The first, the financial one, mattered the most. The second, satisfying their physical needs, was significant, but probably wouldn’t have kept them together all by itself. Now, though, it was what Ben was interested in.

“God dammit, I said I’d do it. I did. Luck and skill combined, that’s me. And I’m glad you finally showed up. Doing that kid made me horny as hell. Come here and take care of me.”

She knew exactly what he liked, and she didn’t mind. Doing it wasn’t much work, and he always came through for her when she wanted it, too. He tended to be a bit rough, but she was into that. She walked to the table and sank to her knees.

Afterwards, with a glass of what she liked, straight gin on the rocks, and Ben’s scotch replenished, she asked, “So what do we do about your kid?”

“I think we lay low. Look, he’s had a lot of time to rat me out. He hasn’t. I don’t think he knows anything. Liz didn’t tell him what we thought she might have. Probably thought it would keep him safer if he didn’t know. If he knew something, he’d have talked, and we’d be in the shit.”

“You, not me.” She took a sip of gin. “Let’s go upstairs.”

He finished his scotch and set the glass on the table. “Yeah. I’m still in the mood.”

Walking up the stairs, however, she felt uncertainty creep into her thoughts. The guy would roll on her in an instant if it would buy him even one week less in the can. They still needed to silence his kid. Then they’d be safe for sure.

He could be right, she realized. He was smart enough to have offed the kid in the hospital cleanly, and if he said he was OK with it, he probably was. But this wasn’t horseshoes or archery; close didn’t cut it. This was her life, and why take chances? No, to her his kid was still a problem. They needed to do something about him. And if Ben had cold feet, she’d have to do it herself.

She was used to getting others to do her dirty work for her, like Marco. But he hadn’t been able to get the job done. Well, he’d paid the price for that, and good riddance. With this one, this kid, she wouldn’t be asking for help. It was still Ben’s job to do, but she wasn’t going to rely on him, and she wasn’t going to wait much longer. She wouldn’t rely on some worthless kids, and she wouldn’t go in unprepared. Not again.

After finishing dinner at Antonio’s, they’d gone back to Jim’s house. There, Jim showed them where Tris could be hidden. Right in Jim’s house.

“The people who built this house were wine lovers and had a wine closet installed. I don’t know why, but they had it built in a way that no one would know it was there. Maybe they kept really expensive wines. Or maybe they hid something in here as well as wine. Who knows? I still use it; I keep my wine store in it, what I have of that; but mostly it just sits unused and unopened. Tris can simply be hidden in there if a cop shows up with a warrant. Remember, we’re assuming it’ll be a dirty cop and part of whatever is going on. I think the chances of this actually happening are pretty slim. So I think this will be unnecessary, but we’ll have it available.”

He showed them the hidden room off the family room and how to access it. “Any time the doorbell rings, Tris can just go stand next to the closet, and actually go in and shut the thing up if he hears a commotion or an argument about anything.”

“What will you tell them about why I’m not here?” Tris asked.

“We’ll use your ‘aunt’ idea. Tell them I sent you there. You’ll still not be going to school, so it’ll make sense.”

They all looked at each other, and then Garlen asked, “OK, that’s settled; now what? Where do we go from here?”

“I think I can help with that,” Tris said. “I’ve been thinking about my situation for a long time. Ever since my dad threw me out of the house, really.”

As Tris spoke, Jim noticed he was no longer looking away from people. He’d first noticed that to be the case in the restaurant. Tris’s posture was different from what it had been when they’d first met, too. The most amazing thing, Jim thought, was his eyes. The abject sadness was gone. Now, they were alive. As alive as the boy himself was.

They were sitting in Jim’s family room. Tris continued. “First, some background. I figure it this way. When he kicked me out, he was acting out of impulse. He does that. Doesn’t think, just acts. Then, after kicking me out, he told me to stay. Why? That was what bugged me. He didn’t care about me, I knew that. So why have me stay? He told me it would embarrass him if the cops got me and deposited me in Putnam. But that was bullshit.”

Tris never used words like that. He even shocked himself and blushed. It was very noticeable on his pale face. He blushed but didn’t apologize and continued.

“He wouldn’t be embarrassed, and certainly not in front of a cop. In his mind, they all work for him, and in a way they do. He acts as though they are his personal employees. Embarrassed? No.

“So why did he have me stay in the garage? Why make me pay rent? I thought about it a lot, and only one thing fit everything he was doing. That was, he wanted me close at hand; he wanted complete control of me, of where I lived, or my time and money. And the only reason for that, logically, since he didn’t care about me, was because he was afraid of what I knew either about what he’d done in the past or what he was doing now.”

“Did you know?” Jordy asked.

“No. But I did know there was something. My mom never told me anything about anything concerning him, but one time after she’d stopped him from yelling at me and I asked her how she was able to get him to stop, she did say that he was afraid of something she knew.” He hesitated for a moment, as though considering whether to go on, then plunged forward. “I finally realized something. If he and the Coppinger woman are working together, and she’s trying to get me into Putnam, then he must not have have agreed to have me sent there before, because I wasn’t sent there; I was in his garage. So, for some reason, he must have changed his mind. Why? I had to figure that out. What had changed?

“I thought about everything that had happened and realized there was one thing that was different. I’d just spent one night away from the garage. Nothing else was changed. But immediately after that was when Coppinger came to get me. So maybe that was what brought everything to a head. Maybe not, but it was the only thing I could think of. If those two are working together, it also suggested that Dad changed his mind about me being taken there. And then I had another thought to support that.”

“Which was?” Garlen asked.

“What if,” Tris asked, speaking hypothetically, “my dad was working with Coppinger, maybe with this Burrows guy as well, and Putnam House is involved? Coppinger wanted to get me there—she said so a couple of times—and even was going to have cops come and take me there. Furthermore, those guys that attacked us today were from Putnam and were sent by Coppinger. It seems Putnam has a lot to do with this. Which means, if my dad’s working with Coppinger, he’s involved with Putnam as well.”

Tris looked around at the others and said, “We all agreed that was likely. But the fact remains, he didn’t want me there before. Now he does. The explanation I came up with was that he’d done something before all this, something illegal that Mom knew about but Coppinger didn’t. Before, he didn’t want me going to Putnam and telling anyone there about it, giving them leverage against him. I guess that became less important than keeping me under his thumb once he had the idea I might be moving away from that garage and his control.”

“Makes sense,” Jim said. “Suddenly he had too many things that might come out in the open, and he started playing defense Circling his wagons. Figuring if something came out when they got you to Putnam he didn’t want them to know, he’d handle that at that time.”

They were all quiet for a moment, thinking, and then Garlen cleared his throat. “So we’re here to figure out what to do. Perhaps what Tris is saying is true, but it’s only background. Should we look into what may have happened in the past? Or concentrate on what’s happening now? What do you all think?”

Tris sat down next to Jordy. “Why not both? If we could learn about either, we’d have some leverage over him and maybe know a little better what this is all about. We have to consider that woman, too. She’s the one trying to grab me and put me in Putnam. I think, as I said, that she’s working with Dad and this Burrows guy. And our plan, whatever we decide, has to be to include those other two.”

“Yeah,” Jim agreed. “Except we have no way to do anything at all.”

Garlen nodded. Jordy looked worried. Tris smiled. “Well…”

He stood up again; he was too keyed up to sit still. “I do have an idea. As I said, I’d been thinking about this for a long time. Then, with what’s happened lately, with what’s gone on the past few days, I’ve had some ideas.”

“And?” Jim asked.

Tristan told them.

Jim set out on his part of Tris’s scheme on Monday. He called all his accountants in for a meeting and told them that he’d had an inquiry from a large philanthropic organization that was interested in making a donation to Putnam House but wanted to know that its finances were solid. Accordingly, he requested each of his people who had any accounts with Putnam House to give him access to the files.

His firm either audited or did the books for the majority of small businesses in town; only very large firms with their own accounting departments were outside his company’s ambit.

He found to his surprise that in the past year Putnam House itself had been involved in a required periodic tax audit, and one of his people had done that. This resulted in Jim being able to look not only into Putnam’s books but into all its suppliers’ books as well.

He had days of work ahead of him but had the time. He started in.

Garlen’s role was a delicate one. As one of the principals of a large legal firm, he had a working relationship with several top-notch investigators. He was a friend of one of them, a man named Dick Rogers, and took the man to lunch on Monday.

Garlen smiled at the irony as they were seated at Jim’s favorite booth at Antonio’s. It was private, which was what they needed. Garlen outlined what he wanted and the absolute need for secrecy. He wanted to know all about the security arrangements for Putnam House and whatever could be dug up about its management. But it all had to be done in the dark; no one could get a hint that they were being scrutinized.

He gave the man one additional assignment. “See if you can figure out who this Mr. Burrows is and how he might be involved with Mildred Coppinger.”

Jordy and Tris had what Tris thought would be the easiest assignment. Jim had balked; he said it was much, much too dangerous.

“You can’t go in there. If he caught you, you’d both be in trouble, and I doubt I could help you at all.”

“That isn’t true,” Tris had said. “There’s nothing to legally keep me out. It’s my house. My father lives there and so do I—morally, ethically, and even physically—up to a short time ago. How can I get in trouble for being in my own house?”

Jim looked to Garlen, who shrugged. “Unless his father got a restraining order, Tris has a point. But assuming his father would call the police if he found them in the house is stretching things, I think. If he caught them there, I doubt he’d get the cops involved. I think he’d physically restrain them and then transport them to Putnam; that only makes sense. And that’s why they shouldn’t do it.”

“He wouldn’t be able to restrain me,” Jordy said.

“He would if he had a gun. He could even shoot you, then claim he hadn’t seen Tris yet, didn’t know you two were together, that you were a stranger in his house and had probably broken in, and he could even claim you attacked him. That it was self-defense. No, Jim’s right: it’s too dangerous.”

So they’d argued. Tris had pointed out that it was unlikely Garlen’s and Jim’s work would reveal anything that would definitely stop his father or Coppinger. Planting bugs in the house could. And Garlen’s investigators had access to bugs. It was the best thing to do and barely dangerous at all. They had cellphones and an investigator to watch that his dad was in his office at the town hall. If he left, the boys could be called and get out of the house well before the man could get there, if that was where he was going.

It was finally agreed. Jim didn’t like it at all, but it was set for Tuesday morning, right after Tris’s dad entered his office that morning.

Garlen had Dick Rogers bring several bugs to Jim’s house Sunday afternoon and explain how they worked and the best places to put them.

It was on the news that evening that they all learned the boy who’d attacked Jordy was dead. It would be a couple more days till the toxicology reports were in, but a drug overdose was suspected. As the boy had had no access to drugs in the hospital, his death was being investigated as a murder.


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