All Things Pretty, Part Two (Pretty #3.5)


by M. Leighton

Before I can even formulate a next move, I hear a door open.  It whips so hard it hits the stopper on the concrete wall.  Tommi is practically running toward me. Something’s wrong.

My heart leaps up into my throat.  Chest gets tight, lungs strain to move, pupils dilate–my entire body is ready for battle.

I get out and meet her in front of the truck, taking her upper arms and bending to look into her eyes. “What’s wrong? Did he hurt you?  So help me God–”

“No,” she breathes frantically. “It’s Travis.  Oh my god, Sig, they took Travis!  That bastard has my brother!”

CONTINUED…

Without even thinking, the cop in me takes over.  Calmly, I stare into Tommi’s eyes.  “Back up and tell me what happened.  What did he say?”

“He…he…” she gasps, almost hiccupping she’s so distraught.

“Slow down.  You need to stay as calm as you can, okay? I know it’s not easy, but you can’t help him if you can’t think straight.”

She stares up at me, all wide-eyed and beautiful even in her distress.  I see her struggle for control, I watch as she gulps in a huge breath of air and exhales slowly, calming herself.  “Lance.  He said that traitors don’t have any place in his life and that he’s with someone named Drake.”

“Wait, wait, wait.  Who’s Drake?” I ask.  I don’t remember hearing the name.

“I don’t know, but Sig, I know Lance.  I’ve heard talk of the kinds of things he and his men do when they’re trying to get answers.  I can’t…I can’t let them… oh my god, Travis.”

Tommi covers her face and sort of folds in on herself, crunching into a tiny ball right in front of me.  I bend down and unroll her enough to pick her up and carry her to the passenger side of the truck.  By the time I get her buckled in, she’s sobbing uncontrollably.

“Hey,” I tell her, pulling her hands away from her face until she looks at me.  “I won’t let anything happen to your brother. I promise.  Remember when I told you that you can trust me? I meant it. You can tell me anything.  Anything at all. It won’t make me feel any differently about you. I promise you that, too.”

Quietly, she searches my eyes.  I hold her gaze, wishing that there was some way I could sear it onto her brain and make her believe my words.  But I can’t. The only thing I can do is prove it. Over and over and over, until she can’t not believe me.

“Did you call Travis already?  Try his phone?”

She nods.  “In the elevator. On the way down. No answer.”  She starts to cry again.  “Sig, he always answers when I call.”

“We’ll start at the house and work our way from there.  We’ll find him, baby.  We’ll find him.”

Once we’re on the road, on our way back to Tommi’s, I wait for her sobs to dwindle to sniffles before I start to ask questions.  Luckily these are questions that anyone in my situation would ask, not just a cop.

“Tell me how Travis is involved with Lance,” I encourage gently.

Tommi glances over at me, her brow furrowing.  A wary look steals over her face and locks her open expression behind a cage of suspicion.  “He’s my brother.  He’s involved with Lance through me.”

“And that’s all?  That’s all that you know of?”

“That’s all that I know of.  Why?”

I sigh. “Tommi, look.  When guys like Lance mention things like ‘traitor,’ it’s usually because someone they’ve trusted has turned on them somehow.  What would he have trusted your brother with?  Is there any history at all that you aren’t telling me about?  Or that you could be overlooking?”

Keeping my attention divided between her and the road, I don’t miss it when she starts to gnaw at her bottom lip.  It’s a nervous thing.  Not a scared thing; a nervous thing.  And there’s only one reason that I can think of that she’d be nervous.

“You have to tell me.  You have to trust me. I’m the only one who can help you now. Surely you know that.”

She leans her head back and closes her eyes, obviously debating the wisdom of sharing some of her secrets.  When she finally raises her head, I don’t say anything. I just wait.  Wait for her to come to the right conclusion.  “Travis has a friend. His name is Trip. I’ve never liked him, but I was so happy that Travis had finally made a friend, I didn’t forbid him to hang out with him.  I guess I always wondered if he would end up getting Travis into trouble.”

“You think he’s a bad influence?”

“I know some things about his older brother, some things he used to do for Lance.  I suppose I just always hoped…and prayed that Travis would never do something like that. Not after–”

She stops suddenly, like she caught herself before she said too much.  I give her a few seconds. See if she’s going to continue without prompting. When she doesn’t, I give her a nudge.

“Not after what?  Don’t shut me out now, Tommi. This is too important.”

She looks over at me, her heart in her eyes.  Her heart and fear and sadness.

“I had another brother.  He-he got in with the wrong crowd.  Got into drugs. It didn’t end well.”

Another brother.  She has another brother. Her file, Tommi’s file, read one brother and one sister.  She’s not old enough to have given birth to Travis, although sometimes she acts like she did. Like he’s her son.

But he’s not.  He’s her brother. Isn’t he?

I find myself questioning everything I know about her.  Well, everything I think I know about her.

“By the ‘wrong crowd,’ do you mean this Trip kid’s older brother?”

She nods, casting her eyes down to where she’s picking at her fingernails again.

“Are you thinking that Trip is working for Tonin? Is that how he thinks Travis is a traitor?  That Travis found out and told or something?”

“I honestly don’t know.  I haven’t noticed any odd behavior in Travis. I mean, with his Asperger’s, he’s very socially closed-off anyway, but he doesn’t act like my other brother did when he got…involved. Not at all.”

We both fall quiet as I digest what she’s said, trying to ignore the odd puzzle piece (another brother who’s no longer around, whether dead or just gone, I don’t know) in favor of focusing on the immediate issue, which is Travis’s whereabouts.

Before I can even stop, Tommi’s out of the truck, her long legs stretching to eat up the sidewalk.  I slam it into park and cut the engine, running after her. I’d like to have gone in first, but I don’t think Tonin would endanger her.  Or else he wouldn’t have let her leave. He’s obviously trying to make a point.

When I get inside, Tommi’s flitting from room to room, calling Travis’s name as she opens every door, even the closets, and looks under all the beds.  She’s white as a ghost when she returns to the living room.

“He’s not here.  He’s really not here.”  I guess she was holding on to the hope that Tonin was using a scare tactic, or that maybe they hadn’t really nabbed him.  But somebody did.  Drake.  Whoever that is.

“Do you know where Trip lives?” I ask.

“Within a house or two, yeah.  I know the street for sure.”

“Then let’s go.”

We drive three blocks and she tells me to slow down, her eyes combing each house we pass for signs of something familiar.  “There!” she says, pointing to a shitty Pontiac sitting in the driveway of the tiniest brick house I’ve ever seen.  “Travis said something once about Trip’s beat-up blue Pontiac.  Surely there’s not more than one on this street.”

I pull up along the curb.  “Stay here,” I instruct.

“Hell no!” she spits, jumping out before I can reason with her.  I want to shake her and kiss her at the same time. I love seeing her in anger.  She’s absolutely magnificent.

I follow her to the door where she bangs three times.  She waits about thirty seconds and pummels it with three more strikes.  When there’s still no answer in another thirty seconds, she raises her hand to do it again.  This time, I catch her, cupping her fist in my palm.

“That might not be the best way to go about this. Come on.” I lace my fingers through hers and tug her with me around back.  Jutting out into the patchy turf of the back yard is a cracked cement patio with four plastic chairs on it and a bong sitting on what appears to be a rusted grill lid.  I step up onto the deck and peek through the sliding glass door, which is covered only by a half-hung curtain.  There’s a kid sitting in a recliner, smoking a joint and watching an old Beavis and Butthead rerun.

When Tommi would lunge forward, I hold her behind me, putting my finger to my lips so she’ll know I want her to be quiet.  I reach out and give the slider handle a sharp yank. It opens easily.

Reflexes slowed by hash, the kid I’m assuming is Trip just stares me with his mouth hanging open for a good ten seconds before he even makes a move to run.  By that time, I’m close enough to reach out, grab him by the scruff of his shirt and haul his ass back into the chair where I can trap him with my arms on either side of his greasy head.

“Where’s Travis?” I ask without preamble.

“Who’s–”

“Don’t play games with me, you little piss ant,” I snap, slapping his cheek hard enough to turn his head.

“I’m not–”

I smack again, cutting off his words before he can toss out another lie.  “You Trip?”

He says nothing.

“That’s what I thought. Now you listen to me, Trip.  I work for Lance Tonin.  Behind me is his girlfriend.  If he were to find out somewhere along the way that you withheld information that would’ve led us to her brother, well, I’d hate to see what a guy like that could do to your balls.  But that would be after,” I say, grabbing a red lighter from the table beside him, “after I get through with you.”  I flick the lighter, waving my hand quickly over the open fire before holding the thin flame down at his crotch.

The kid slaps at it, shrinking away, a terrified look on his stoner face.  “What the fu–”

“Seems like you might be finally understanding how important this is.  Now, I’m only gonna ask you one more time, kid.  Where. Is. Travis?”

He squeals when I twitch my thumb and reignite the flame.  “Chaps! Chaps!  Chaps came to get him!”

Chaps?  Why does that name sound–

Shit! The teacher!

“Chaps is his teacher, correct?”

Trip nods.

“What’s his first name?”

“D-Drake, I think. I just call him Chaps.  My brother always did.”

Thoughts, theories, worries cascade down into my mind like a waterfall.  “Did your brother have Mr. Chaps for any of his classes in school?”

Trip nods again.

“And did you?”

Nod.

I glance at Tommi. If possible, her face is even paler than before.  I’m guessing that her other, older brother had him for a class as well.  And we know that Travis does.

Special needs, I think with a sneer.  That’s what Tommi called him–Travis’s “special needs” teacher.  I wonder if “special needs” is specific to those with mental health conditions or if it encompasses any kid with a behavioral problem.  Do troublemakers and little criminals qualify for the attention of a “special needs” teacher?  Because that might be how these drugs are getting moved.  And how minors are getting involved.