The kid was small, maybe six, maybe seven. Kinda sickly lookin’ too – like she was beaten by life already.
I nudged the coffee cup back across the counter and checked my watch. ‘It’s 11.15 kid. Whaddya doing out at this time?’
‘Please, Mister. You gotta come see. They’re gonna think my Pa did it. But he didn’t. He didn’t.’
The hole in the wall cafe was more hole than cafe. I’d been watching the place for the past three nights – another one of those jobs where some schmuck was sleeping around with someone certifiably married to some other schmuck. The guilty couple had turned out two nights out of three to use the room around the back of the cafe. The room was one of those places where people got tied up in ropes that looked like you needed a month of macrame lessons just to get the knots to sit right. It was no place for a kid, and I already had all the evidence I needed.
‘Okay kid, show me what you got.’
She was quick, and if I hadn’t been so busy looking for sudden movements in the shadows as we passed by the deserted library a little way down the block I might have noticed her bare feet, or that her dress didn’t stir when the August winds slammed into each other on the corner of Fifth and First Street.
I followed on passed a row of shops, closed for two years or so before some fresh-faced artists had taken over the place. The last shop, newly painted red, was lit up, though the light was dulled by lengths of butchers paper stuck to the inside of the window, obliterating any view of the work going on inside. The hand-painted letters splashed across the outside announced the grand opening sometime on Friday morning. I guess they still had a few hours of hard grind ahead of them.
I knew the next place well. The stone church had squatted on the corner since well before I was a kid. It had always been the kinda place even the most ardent believers avoided because the priest was one of those old-school death and damnation preachers who seemed to resent his flock more than he resented the church.
The kid must have slipped in between the bars of the iron gate guarding the pathway, coz the next time I saw her she was standing at the top of the worn stone steps that led up to the entrance. The heavy wooden doors to the church were open, and next to the girl lay a child. A girl, barely six, maybe seven who looked as cold as the stone she lay on.
‘Oh Jezuzt!’ I took the stairs three at a time, pulling my phone out of my jacket pocket as I ran.
‘It’s okay kid, an ambulance will be here soon,’ I said, knowing the other child, maybe her sister, was beyond help.
The girl smiled then, in a way that told me she understood the lie I’d just told. ‘You gotta find em, Mister. You gotta find em.’ Then she was gone.
This was gonna be a long night.