The police arrived, then the paramedics, then the police photographer, and after that Jude lost track. There were so many officers and technicians and medical personnel that they spilled out of the small kitchen and into the hallway beyond. They knew what to do with the body lying on the kitchen floor. They knew how to secure the area to preserve evidence. They knew the procedure cold. But no one knew exactly how to handle Jude.
Jude sat in the darkened living room staring at the television. He was aware of what they must be thinking. What kind of kid sat watching TV when his father was lying dead in the next room? That's what they were saying in the kitchen. He knew the smart thing would've been to act like they expected him to. He should have cried or something.
They had taken his statement, then one of the policemen -- the youngest, the one who couldn't pass the buck -- was assigned to stay with him in the living room. The policeman didn't sit. He chose to stand, like a guard, near the doorway.
Jude could feel the officer glance at him every once in a while, but he kept his eyes carefully focused on the television -- so he didn't notice another figure in the doorway until he heard someone clear his throat.
When Jude looked up, he saw a man in a suit. The suit was the tip-off. Detective, Jude thought.
The man jerked his head at the young policeman, and the officer beat a quick retreat down the hall. Then he looked back to Jude and said, "Hey."
"Hey," Jude replied.
The detective seemed to take the brief acknowledgment as an invitation, and he crossed the room to stand beside the couch. He glanced over at the muted television.
"What are you watching?"
Jude shrugged. "Crap."
"It's all crap," the man said. "But I watch it anyway," he added. "Mind if I sit?"
Jude shifted slightly, as if to make room.
The detective sat on the end where the springs were broken, and he sagged almost to the ground. He grunted but didn't comment on it. At that level Jude could see that he was balding at the crown.
They sat without talking. Jude pretended to be staring at the screen, but he was really watching the man next to him out of the corner of his eye. Just as Jude thought the man was about to speak, a sharp voice echoed down the hallway.
"Where the hell are you, Burwell?"
Another man appeared in the doorway of the living room. This man was as thin and sharp as his voice -- except for his face, which had the drooping, wrinkled look of a hound dog.
"I thought we were doing the walk-through first," he said to Burwell. His eyes slid over to Jude. "Is this the kid?" he continued, without waiting for an answer to his first question.
Jude turned back to the television. He didn't like how this second man talked about him as if he weren't even in the room, but Jude's pointed movement failed to offend him; it just drew the man's attention to the television.
"You guys watching Leave It to Beaver or something?"
"We're just hanging out," Burwell said, glancing at Jude as if to include him in his answer.
The second man moved into the room to get a better look at the television. "Hey, I love this show," he said. "Turn up the sound for a minute."
Jude lifted the remote and changed the channel.
Instead of getting angry, the man broke into a smiling chuckle. "I see you've got a smart-ass here," he observed, but he said it as if it were a compliment.
"Hey, Grant, why don't you go back into the kitchen and make some notes about the scene. I'll be back in a couple," Burwell suggested.
"Okay, partner. Whatever you say." Grant looked over at Jude and said, "Don't let my partner fool you. He likes to play the jolly fat man, but he has the soul of a shark." He winked, pivoted on his heel, and disappeared back down the hallway.
"Don't mind him. He's an asshole," Burwell said in explanation. He paused, then asked delicately, "I need to ask you a few questions. You okay with that?"
"I guess." Jude tugged nervously at a ragged patch of fabric on the arm of the sofa.
Burwell pulled a notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket. "Were you the one who called in?"
"Okay. What's your name?"
"How old are you, Jude?"
"Can you tell me who that is in the kitchen?"
"That's my dad."
Burwell had been scribbling, but then he stopped. "I thought so," he said. "I'm sorry about your loss."
It was a common enough phrase, and the man said it without fuss. Jude realized that the detective must have repeated it a hundred times before. It was just part of a day's work for him. For some reason the thought that the loss of his father -- the only person Jude had in the world -- was just another corpse in a long line of bloody cases made his throat close up.
"Do you have any relatives we can call for you?"
Jude shook his head.
"No," he said. "There's no one."
"Where's your mother?"
Jude looked back at the TV. "Dunno. She split when I was a baby." He waited for the man's pity, but Burwell just made a note and plowed on with his questions.
"Were you in the apartment when the shooting occurred?"
Burwell didn't overtly react, but he watched Jude more closely as he asked him the next question.
Here was where it got tricky. Jude had spent the last half hour trying to decide what his story would be. He decided that he couldn't lie about being here. Too many people had seen him on his way home, and he had passed a neighbor when he came into the building. So he said, "I was here, watching TV."
Burwell wrote for a few seconds. "We'll go over this more later, but right now I want you to tell me about what happened. Do you think you can do that?"
Jude figured his best course would be to keep it simple. "I heard someone bust in the door," he said. He paused and had to clear his throat before going on. "They went down to the kitchen and I heard something, like a pop or something. Then they took off."
Jude covered quickly. "I heard them talking when they were walking down the hall."
"I'm pretty sure."
"So they never came back in here?"
Jude shook his head.
"And you didn't go into the kitchen?"
"Not until they split."
"Then you went in?"
"And what did you do when you went into the kitchen?"
"I called 911."
"And how long after that did the police arrive?"
"Less than ten minutes," Jude guessed.
"Do you know why someone might have wanted to kill your father?" Burwell asked, flipping the page in his notebook and still scribbling.
"Yeah." Jude had made the decision to be honest here.
Burwell glanced up. "Oh?"
"He was skimming too much from his shipments," Jude said. Now that they had gotten away from what happened, he felt a little steadier.
"His shipments of what?"
"Heroin and coke mostly." Jude changed the channel on the TV.
"Did he get a shipment tonight?"
"You saw it?"
"Did you see who dropped it off?"
Jude shook his head.
"Do you know who he got it from?"
Burwell rested his notebook on his knee and looked at Jude, his plump face unreadable in the light from the television.
Jude expected another question, but this time it didn't come.
"So, you think you're pretty tough, I guess," Burwell said mildly.
The comment caught Jude off guard. He didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything.
Burwell took his silence as agreement. "Well, I'll let you believe that for a little while. I'm going to have one of the men take you down to the station, and we'll come down when we finish here. So you have maybe" -- he checked his watch -- "an hour or so to think about how tough you are before we get there."
He folded up his notebook and tucked it back into his pocket, sliding the pen in beside it.
"See, I'm ready to be sympathetic and understanding here, but if you don't tell me the truth, you're forcing my hand. I've been doing this too long not to smell bullshit when it's served up to me. The officers asked your neighbors if they heard anything. They're not too helpful -- apparently no one saw a damn thing -- but your neighbor Mrs. Ramos was pretty positive about one very interesting detail. She said she heard someone kick in the door. She didn't call the police or go out and check because she didn't want to get involved, but she was worried enough that they might try her door next that she stood and listened for them. Mrs. Ramos claims that whoever went into your apartment didn't come out for nearly ten minutes. She was real positive about that. Willing-to-testify kind of positive, if you know what I mean. So maybe you should think about whether you want to tell me what was going on in here for those ten minutes. Ten minutes you say you were here in the TV room and they were shooting your father, and you didn't see a thing."
Jude scrambled desperately to think of something to say -- something convincing, something believable.
Burwell waited a moment, and when Jude didn't respond, he said, "You see, this detective thing isn't that hard because people aren't that smart." He stared at Jude. Jude tried to stare back, but he found he couldn't hold it.
"Listen, you're young. We don't send kids to jail. If you had something to do with this, it's better to tell us. Then we can help you. Maybe it was a friend of yours come to take care of things for you. You've got a nasty bruise there, and your neighbors told us that you tend to get a lot of bruises. We take those things into account, you know. We understand about things like that."
"You don't understand anything," Jude said.
The detective seemed to hear the catch in his throat, and his next question was gentler. "Okay, maybe I don't, but how can I understand if you don't tell me? Listen, if you're scared about them coming after you, remember, we're the police. Protecting people is what we do."
If Jude had only been worried about his safety, he might have caved in and told the detective everything he knew. But the man had trusted him. He had trusted Jude to keep his word and had left him alive. He wasn't going to be like his father, Jude told himself fiercely.
When the silence stretched out, the detective nodded as if Jude had said something that confirmed all his suspicions. "Right. Let me explain something to you, Jude. Maybe you didn't have anything to do with this, but if you know something about your father's murder and you don't tell us, that makes you an accessory to the crime. That means you're partially responsible, and if we can prove it, we can cart you off to juvie, and the boys there will make a tough kid like you look like cotton candy. So think about that for a little while, and see if you can remember anything else."
Jude thought about it.
He was still thinking about it in the interrogation room more than two hours later. One of the policemen had taken him down to the station to wait for the detectives, and the longer he sat there, the more he felt like he wanted to jump out of his skin.
He jumped up and paced the room, back and forth, back and forth. The mirrored window caught his eye, and he realized that someone -- maybe even the detectives -- could be on the other side watching. Waiting. Figuring out when he was softened up enough. They already knew he was lying. His story hadn't held up for even five minutes. What would happen if they questioned him for two hours? Would he hold out...or would he break down and tell them the truth?
Copyright © 2004 by Kate Morgenroth
The truth was that Jude shouldn't even have been there in the apartment. He was never home that time of day. It was all because of his shoe.
Normally Jude stayed after school to shoot hoops, but that morning the rubber sole of his sneaker had torn away from the toe. Throughout the day he kept catching it as he walked, the rubber doubling under his foot and making him stumble. By the end of the day the sole smacked the pavement like a reverse flip-flop, and there was no playing ball with it like that.
He lingered for a few minutes, watching the others shouting and jostling out on the court. One of the kids spotted him standing there. "Come on, Jude. We need you," the kid called, pausing in his jog downcourt. "We're getting killed out here."
Jude was always first choice for center because he was bigger than the others -- though the other guys teased him, saying white boys can't jump. It was true, he had no legs, but he was tall and strong and quick, too -- an all-around good player. He wasn't the flashiest out there, but his team tended to win.
"I can't today," he said.
"Ah, come on," the kid coaxed.
From down the court someone else yelled, "Get your butt out here, man."
"Can't," Jude said again.
"That's it. We're toast." The kid shook his head and turned, and a second later he was yelling for the ball, "Yo-yo-yo, over here."
All the others pounded up and down the concrete in Nikes and Adidases. Jude remembered when he had arrived at the court last spring with his "new" pair. His father had bought them, and he was so proud of his purchase. Jude had been talking about wanting a pair of Nikes, and here was this pair of Nikes and, his father announced, they'd cost only four dollars at the thrift store. Unfortunately, Jude could see why. They didn't look like they'd been worn, but they were old. Instead of laces they had Velcro, and fluorescent stripes down the sides. When he wore them to the court, everyone pointed and laughed and tried to tease him. He just shrugged as if he didn't care, and the guys soon gave up on the jokes. He noticed that in the next few weeks several other kids showed up with old sneakers like his. Jude assumed they were making fun of him. He didn't even begin to suspect that they'd bought shoes like his because they admired him, and that they mistook his silence for confidence. They thought he was different. They didn't know that all he wanted was to be like everyone else.
In everything, Jude did his best to blend in. Like most of the other kids, he dressed in long, baggy shorts and a basketball jersey with a white T-shirt underneath. The only difference was that he usually wore long sleeves, even in the surge of Indian-summer heat. The long sleeves covered the fading bruises, dark and mottled on the pale skin of his arms.
He hung on the fence a few more minutes, scuffing his good sneaker in the high grass. But just when he was about to leave, he spotted his best friend, R. J., jogging across the parking lot toward the court. Jude raised a hand and R. J. swerved toward him.
Two years ago -- when Jude had moved to Hartford with his father -- R. J. had jumped him on his first day of school. Jude had been the new kid too many times to be surprised by it; he and his father had moved at least a dozen times over the last fifteen years. They usually moved into rough neighborhoods -- usually because of lack of money; now because, though his father had money from the dealing, he had to stay in central Hartford to be close to the business. Jude didn't mind. It was what he was used to. He knew what to expect -- and part of what he expected was a fight on the first day of school. It was as certain as a handshake after an introduction.
The new kid was usually an easy target, but Jude had the advantage of experience. He had ducked R. J.'s wild punch and started his swing from the knees like his father had taught him. He had loosened R. J.'s front tooth, so that afterward he could wiggle it a little with his tongue -- and they had been friends ever since.
"Yo, man, why aren't you out there?" R. J. called as he approached.
"Why the hell not?"
He lifted his foot and showed R. J. his sneaker.
"Man, didn't I tell you that you got to get you some new kicks? Your old man will have to spring for them now."
"I was gonna get me some last week, but they didn't have the ones I wanted in my size," Jude said.
"Yeah, whatever. You might be able to lay that shit on the guidance counselor, but it don't work with me." He grinned and Jude smiled back. That was why R. J. was the only person who he confided in -- he was the only one who saw through Jude's bluff and cared enough to call him on it. "So what's the problem? Your dad's got cash -- I mean, he's gotta if he's skimming. What the hell is he doing with all of it?"
Jude made a face. "I think he's just cheap. But he says he's saving it for my college education."
"You're kidding me, right?"
Jude shook his head.
"Oh shit." R. J. burst out laughing. "You better hope he's just cheap, 'cause he'll be lucky if you graduate high school."
"It's not funny," Jude said, but he couldn't help laughing too.
"Hey, listen, if he won't spring for them, or you don't wanna even go there, I can try my brother. If I catch him at the right time, I could score a hundred easy."
"Nah, man, you don't need to do that," Jude said. He knew how much R. J. hated asking his big brother. A year ago his brother had gotten heavy into the junk and started dealing to support his habit, and most of the time R. J. stayed as far away from him as he could.
"That reminds me, I didn't forget your birthday's comin' up. I got something for you," R. J. said.
"What is it?"
"I'm not gonna tell you, stupid. Then it wouldn't be a surprise. But hey, did you go to Miss Perez's class today?"
"I cut," Jude said. "I didn't do the homework."
"Me neither, but I heard there's a test tomorrow."
"Shit, I forgot about that."
"Listen, Frankie told me that Perez uses the same tests every year. So I'm gonna go through my brother's old shit. My mom kept all that stuff. She thought he was a regular scholar -- not that it does him any damn good now. Meet me at my locker the period before, and if I find it, we can memorize the answers. You up for it?"
"Definitely," Jude said.
"Catch you then." R. J. raised his fist and Jude hit it lightly with his own.
But he wouldn't be there tomorrow, or the next day, and the gift R. J. had for Jude would sit on the shelf in his locker for weeks.
When Jude let himself into the apartment and flapped down the narrow hallway into the kitchen, he found his father at the table emptying a plastic bag of white powder into a metal mixing bowl.
Jude stopped in the doorway.
"What?" his father demanded.
"Nothin'," he said quickly, crossing to the fridge.
His father grunted.
Jude retrieved a jug of orange juice and, standing with the door of the fridge propped open, tipped back the container and took a swig.
"That is a disgusting habit," his father said.
He swallowed, wiped his mouth. "You do it all the time," he pointed out.
"That doesn't mean you should. Pour yourself a goddamned glass and go get me the baby powder from the bathroom."
Jude pinched up a corner of his shirt and carefully wiped the mouth of the jug. "You think it's a good idea to pull this again so soon, Pops?" Jude tried to speak casually to cover the sickening lurch he felt at his father's request. His father had cut the last four shipments. This would make the fifth in a row. You could get away with it once in a while, but each supplier had the name of his product stamped on the dime bags, and if quality was bad, the word spread. The packets his father filled were stamped with the words first class, and it usually was. On the street it had the reputation for being the purest cut you could buy, and it was always in demand. Or rather, it used to be. The junkies, who didn't notice if you stumbled over them on the street, noticed if you messed with their high. You couldn't cut five shipments in a row and keep your customers. Five in a row was stupid. Even worse, five in a row showed disrespect.
"I think you should keep your mouth shut about things you don't know anything about," his father snapped.
But the fact was that Jude knew all about it. Not from his father, but from the neighborhood where deals went down on most street corners, and the favorite topics of conversation routinely involved who was dealing, who was snitching, who was dipping, who was dead. R. J. had actually been the first to pass along the warning. Because of his brother, R. J. was usually the first to hear the rumors.
"You're telling me you think the other guys aren't doing it?"
"Sure they are," Jude admitted. "But not like this, and if they're doing it this much, they're not getting away with it."
"But I am," his father said. "We are. Now, go get me the damn baby powder."
"Pops, I don't think...," he started.
It was his own fault. He should have known better.
His father was up in a moment. It took only two steps for him to reach Jude, and then he was grabbing Jude's shirt. His father's fist cocked back, and then Jude's head exploded with light and he was knocked back against the counter. The juice carton flew from his hand and landed on its side, liquid pumping out its mouth.
Jude felt the hard edge of the counter against his back, and the first pulse of his heart brought the flower of pain beating in his cheek. His father dropped his hand and turned away, and Jude felt the urge to hurl himself at that silent, disdainful back. It took all of his will to hold himself still. Then after a second Jude pushed himself upright, and leaving the juice to spill itself on the floor, he walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to the bathroom.
The baby powder was in the cabinet above the sink. He retrieved it, shut the cabinet, and caught his reflection in the mirror, cloudy and splattered with sprays of toothpaste. There was already a red welt rising on his cheek, and his father had nicked open the skin with the plain gold band he wore on the ring finger of his right hand -- but that didn't interest Jude as much as the eerie expression of calm the mirror reflected back at him. From his expression someone might assume he didn't care. He remembered when he had practiced for hours just this blank look. He'd thought that maybe if he didn't show the fear and shame and anger, then maybe he wouldn't feel it either. It hadn't worked.
When he returned to the kitchen, his father was mopping up the juice with a wad of paper towels. Jude set the powder container down hard on the table; it must have been open, because a cloud huffed from the top.
Jude was about to exit the room again when his father called to him in a very different tone, "Hold on a second there."
He stopped but didn't turn. He heard his father open the door to the freezer.
"Better put this on your face." His father circled around him and held out an ice pack.
"It's not that bad," Jude said, but he took the ice pack anyway.
"You know, you should just slug me back. You're as tall as I am now, and when you put on a little muscle, you'll be bigger than me." His father draped a casual arm over his shoulders and gave him a little squeeze.
Jude felt sick with disgust -- both for the way his father tried to make it up to him and with himself for putting up with it. It was all so predictable and so pathetic, but he forced a smile and said, "I couldn't hit an old man."
"Who're you calling old man?" His father released his shoulders and playfully jabbed him on the arm. "You're a tough guy, you know that?"
It was his father's highest compliment. "I'm gonna go watch some TV," Jude said, starting down the hall.
He followed the narrow corridor to the living room and settled down in the corner of the brown couch. They had rented the apartment furnished, and they had the brown couch and a green armchair in the living room, a metal folding table and four mismatched chairs in the kitchen, and a narrow twin bed and dresser in each bedroom. They had been living there two years and had added nothing but a TV, which rested on the seat of the armchair.
Jude didn't even notice the bareness of his surroundings. It was what he was used to. Before moving to this apartment they hadn't lived anywhere much longer than a year; they had moved from one city to another with the speed of the guilty, and since they never stayed, they never accumulated anything. Once, Jude had put up a poster in his room -- of Michael Jordan in midair, stretching toward the basket -- but his father tore it down during a fight, and Jude didn't try to hang another.
Jude flicked on the TV and sat there surfing through the channels and holding the ice pack to his face until it lost its chill and turned to a soft gel. By then his stomach was rumbling, and he decided to brave the kitchen to get something to eat.
His father must already have added the baby powder, because when Jude returned, he was bent over the mixing bowl filling one of the tiny wax-paper envelopes. Even though Jude's flapping shoe announced his arrival, his father didn't look up. That meant the spurt of regret had passed. Everything was back to normal.
Jude opened the freezer and inspected the contents. "You want something to eat?" he asked.
His father placed the dime bag in a small pile with the others he had filled and picked up an empty. "Not hungry."
Jude removed a Salisbury steak TV dinner, stuck it in the oven, and set the timer. He found a roll of duct tape in a drawer and wound it around the toe of his shoe. Then he sat back down at the kitchen table to wait for the buzzer. Since there was nothing else to do, he watched his father fill the glassine bags. His father's fingers were short and thick and clumsy. The clumsiness came from the knuckles -- swollen and lumpy with arthritis from the fighting he had done as a young man. Jude knew that not only was it difficult for his father to cut the shipments, it was also painful. Normally he would have offered to help, as he was almost twice as fast, but his cheek still throbbed in a painful reminder, so he just sat.
And that's exactly where they were when the two men arrived.
Copyright © 2004 by Kate Morgenroth