Joshua ran along the coal docks to find help. The door to the closest warehouse was locked. He banged on it.
“Please help! There’s an old man! He’s hurt!”
But no one answered. He ran to the next warehouse. The door was open. Joshua ran inside but found nothing but rows and rows of boxes. He called for help. His voices echoed in the building. No one was there or no one who would answer him. There was no aid at the third warehouse.
He came to a street with two shops. The first one belonged to a pawnbroker. He was a reed thin man with yellow blonde hair and ice blue eyes. His walls were lined with dishes, candlesticks, music boxes, fine linens, clocks and watches. He sat behind the counter and clutched his money box close to him.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Please you have to come. There’s a man-“
“Be off with you!” the pawnbroker snapped.
He wagged his birch cane at Joshua. Joshua retreated and ran across the street.
The there he found a saloon with a glass door. The bartender, a huge bald man was cranking out the awning. There were already two patrons at the bar.
“What do you want?” asked the bartender in a gravely voice.
Out of breath, Joshua huffed and panted. He pointed towards the docks.
“There’s a man at the docks. I think he’s dying.”
The bartender squinted.
“If this is some kind of joke, I’ll turn your behind bright red.”
He walked back into the bar and yelled at the patrons.
“Hey, Muncie! Hey Roop! Get out of there!”
“What for Stagwart?” asked one.
“We haven’t had our drinks,” complained his companion.
“I don’t care. I got to close up for a bit and there’s no way I’m leaving you two inside. So out you go!” Stagwart ordered.
Muncie and Roop mumbled bitterly as they shuffled out the door.
“What are we supposed to do now?”
Stagwart jerked a thumb at Joshua.
“Follow the kid. He says there’s a dead body over there.”
The two men chuckled.
Joshua tried to explain that the body wasn’t dead as yet. But the trio just prodded him along.
“You just take us there.”
At least they’re coming, Joshua thought.
He led them back to the docks.
“He’s not dead,” Stagwart declared.
Joshua felt a chill. The old man was lying on the ground utterly motionless; not a tremor in his body.
“Wake him up then.”
Stagwart shook the old man a few times but he didn’t move. His smile vanished. He let the body drop and jumped back, nearly toppling over Muncie and Roop.
“He’s really dead.”
“That’s what the boy told you,” Roop said.
“What do we do?” asked Muncie.
No one said anything for a moment.
“Get the constables?” Muncie offered.
Joshua sat down as Stagwart went to fetch the authorities. Muncie and Roop chatted with each other and left him alone. Joshua was glad of it. He didn’t want to speak to anyone just yet.
The last thing he did was give me a candy, he thought.
That was the first time anyone gave me anything in an age. And now he’s dead and I didn’t even get to say “Thank you.”
Stagwart returned with two constables in red and green uniforms, a fat one and a tall one.
“What have we here?” asked the tall one.
“A body,” said the fat one.
“A murder,” said the tall one.
Constables saw crime wherever they went. They were paid to bring people into the stations and question them. So that’s what they did, always.
“Who killed him?” asked the fat one.
The bartender and his companions denied everything. Joshua sighed. He knew what would come next.
“Which one of you found him?” asked the tall one.
To their credit, Stagwart, Muncie and Roop hemmed and hawed a few moments before they pointed to Joshua.
The fat constable seized him by the scruff of the neck.
“Oh, a street rat,” he crowed
“Looks like we’ve found our malefactor,” said his companion.
“That’s not true,” Stagwart declared.
Muncie and Roop protested as well.
“You know him?” asked the tall constable.
They had to admit they didn’t.
“But he was real sad and quiet when we found him like this,” Muncie said.
“Overcome with remorse,” said the fat one.
“Or a clever ruse,” added the tall one.
“Either way, we’ve got our culprit.”
They dragged Joshua to their red and green wagon drawn by two screaming donkeys. They tossed him into the back cell. Joshua held on to the bars on the door as the wagon rolled forward along the cobblestone streets. It was a rocky journey across Rustington. The streets were becoming crowded with citizens out about their daily business. They trundled past street vendors, grocers, barber shops, fortune tellers, rat catchers, and a man playing a small harp for pennies thrown into a hat. Some gazed up at Joshua clinging to the door of the wagon. Most went about their daily lives and never gave him a second thought. Finally the wagon stopped and the constables hustled him into the precinct station.
They brought Joshua into a small brown room with one chair. After a few more minutes a detective entered. He was a scruffy man with an overcoat that was two sizes too large for him.
He said “My name is Rightberry. You may think you’ll get away with this…”
He trailed off. Rightberry looked down at his notepad.
The detective cleared his voice and began again.
“You may think you’ll get away with this murder but you are sourly wrong. You can’t possibly match my intellect. All I have to do is look at you and I know the truth.”
Joshua said nothing. Detective Rightberry went on rambling.
“So you saw the old man and thought ‘here’s an old man.’ You saw he had some money. We didn’t find any money on the body so you must have taken it after you killed him. But we didn’t find any money on you so you must have hidden it. Yes, yes, you followed him a short distance. Not too close, because he would have seen you and called out and no one called out. Unless you got to them first and bought them off. You bought them off with the money you took off the old man whom you killed for his money.”
Joshua remained silent.
He’d been through this before along with Heathcliff. Months ago a body was found in Dreamer’s Garden. The constables took them both to the precinct. A detective, possibly this same Rightberry in a coat too big for him, made all kinds of accusations. Heathcliff played along like it was a game.
“How did you do it?” the detective asked.
“We stabbed him,” Heathcliff answered.
“You stabbed him,” the detective repeated. He scribbled in his notepad as Heathcliff talked.
“And then we drowned him.”
“Then you drowned him.”
“Then we shot him.”
And so on. The detective wrote down every false confession. Heathcliff was up to “we stuffed live chickens down his gullet” when a burly sergeant came in.
The sergeant said, “Let ‘em go. That dead man wasn’t dead. Just sleeping.”
The detective stuffed his scribbled notes into his pockets and shooed them out the room.
Joshua knew the old man from the docks wouldn’t wake up but he wasn’t worried. There were good constables like that sergeant; quiet people who did their jobs.
Sure enough, a squat gray haired constable opened the door and whispered into Rightberry’s ear. The two of them left Joshua alone in the room. He could tell from detective’s downcast and gloomy face that they would let him go.
It was only after they left that he began to fidget uncomfortably. Without the detective’s wild theories to distract him, Joshua remembered the last time he sat alone in a police station. It was the day he became an orphan.
The constables made him wait in a room just like the one he was in now. It smelled the same, like sweat mixed with ammonia water. The same muffled shouts echoed outside the door.
Maybe it is the same police station. Maybe this is the same room.
He looked down at the floor again.
Were these scratches on the floor the same scratches?
Against his will, Joshua remembered that day.
He didn’t want to remember. He didn’t want to relive that day. But the memory of it came to him anyway.
The day began so brightly.