Karen had just turned the key in the ignition when a knock on Jim's window startled them both. A uniformed officer stood outside the car with a thin folder in his hand.
"Jim, the window." Jim rolled down the window and the officer handed him a folder. "Detective Semple told me to give you this." When Jim didn't move to take it he dropped it in his lap, making him jump. "Sorry, Detective." He turned and left. "Thank you," Jim called after him and closed the window again.
"What's this?" Jim felt the edges of the thin folder, then handed it to Karen. She took it, opened it and began reading. Jim waited impatiently for a moment then demanded, "Karen?"
"Oh, sorry, it's Semple's case file on Raúl Hernández, the homeless guy from last winter. It's the thinnest case file I've ever seen. There's Semple's report from the scene and the ME's report and that's basically it."
"What does it say?"
"The DOA is Raúl Hernández, 34, Hispanic found frozen to death on February 20th. The body was found in the far corner of a park covered in snow."
"What else?" Jim said impatiently, wishing he could read it for himself.
"That's it, don't snap at me, I can't tell you what's not there."
"Sorry. There's gotta be more?"
"No! Like I said it's the lousiest case file I've ever seen and I've seen some sloppy ones in my days."
"Yes. There is an address in an apartment building. You want to go there and see if anyone there remembers him?"
"Did Semple talk to anyone there?"
"I don't think so, there's nothing in the file to indicate that he did. He probably sat on his ass by his desk and decided it was not worth the trouble going there."
"I think that it might be. Let's go."
He didn't want to think about his childhood, too many bad memories, but they always came back to him at night before he went to sleep. Some nights he could avoid the memories by thinking about the people he had helped throughout the years. Some nights, like tonight, the memories wouldn't go away. He remembered living with his parents in a trailer in an Indian reservation. He was five or six years old at the time. Not all his memories of the place were bad though. There was an old man who used to take him for a walk and tell him about nature and about the making of the world. He told him God was in the Earth and the sky, in the mountains, the sun and the stars. He told stories about the eagle's flight and how Good and Evil fought against each other and Man stood in between torn between the two.
He spent a lot of time on his own, neglected even by his parents. At night he went to bed on his own even though he was very scared of the dark and of being alone. Sometimes they would hold ceremonies to which his parents brought him. That was even worse than being alone in the trailer. The room would be dark, only lit by a fire, making eerie shadows in the corners. The air was filled with sweet smoke and the humming of male voices. He was frightened but was afraid to tell his Mom and Dad because somehow he knew that this was something important, something he had to do. Maybe they knew he was frightened because a couple of times they let him smoke too, perhaps hoping that that would calm him down. It made him kind of drowsy, not asleep but not awake either. He would have weird dreams and scary images floated in the air. He wanted to cry, wanted his Mom to comfort him but all he could do was lie there and wait for the liberating sleep.
One day Grandma came to visit them. At night when they thought he was asleep, he heard Grandma and his Mom and Dad argue.
"You can't let him live like this. He's just a small child. How can you leave him alone at night? I can tell he's scared of being in there in the dark at night."
"That's not true, he –"
"You have no idea, all you do is sit here and smoke marijuana day and night. What about the boy, is he on drugs too?
"Of course not! We gave him some, a couple -"
"I don't want to hear it. I'm taking the boy with me, we're leaving tomorrow!"
"Hah. And that's supposed to be better? You couldn't even take care of me," he could hear the hurt and scorn in his mother's voice, "and now you're old. And I know how much sherry you drink at night. But that's medicine, right? Just to help you fall asleep? You can take him, he's a weird kid anyway."
That's how he ended up with Grandma and in the Catholic school. She said he needed some "proper schooling and a proper faith". The nuns at the school were very strict, most of them, but he was smart and did well in school. Then of course there was Father O'Brien... No! He would not think about him! If he did he would never fall asleep. Like in "Peter Pan" he just had to think happy thoughts and he could, if not fly then at least sleep.
The address in the file was of an apartment on seventh floor of an old, red apartment building. The name on the apartment door was E. Garcia. After Karen knocked they waited for a while then the door was opened by a tiny woman in her fifties.
"Detectives Bettancourt and Dunbar from NYPD. Are you Mrs. Garcia?"
"The police? I've never had the police come to my door. I'm an honest, hardworking –"
"No, no, Mrs. Garcia, we're here about Raúl Hernández. I believe he used to live here." While Karen was talking, the woman took in Jim's dark glasses, gave Hank a condescending glance, made a disapproving sound and directed all her attention at Karen.
She began speaking in Spanish. Every now and again Karen asked a question. At least that's what Jim assumed. He didn't speak Spanish and felt quite left out of the conversation. It seemed as though Karen's questions upset the older woman although it was difficult to assess solely from the voice.
Suddenly he felt the door slamming before he even heard it close and he involuntarily took a step backwards.
"Whoa! What did you say to her?"
Karen shook her head. "Nothing. She doesn't care for the late Mr. Hernández. She has a spare room in her apartment and he rented it two years ago. He told her he was an accountant and worked for a large company."
"So why didn't he have a place of his own?"
"He never really told her, said something about his girl-friend being mad at him. Anyway, he didn't keep his job for long, that is, if he was even employed at the time. She said he slept all day and was out partying every night. On several occasions he brought home girls to his room even though the lease said that visitors were not allowed. She eventually kicked him out when he stopped paying the rent."
"That's when he ended up on the street?"
"Probably. One evening after he was gone, two drug dealers came to her door asking for him. Apparently they wanted him to pay for the cocaine he'd bought. She told them she didn't know where he was, and didn't care either, and then she slammed the door."
"OK, Selway and Russo, did you get anything in Hell's Kitchen yesterday?"
"Sure, Boss," Tom looked at his note from the previous day and continued, "The DOA was a Isaiah Washington, black, 56 years old. He was a lawyer but couldn't keep his hands off the client accounts. He was convicted and did four years. While he did time he was declared bankrupt and since his wife had divorced him the year before, he had nowhere to go after he was released."
"Alcohol? Or drugs?" Jim leaned back in his chair, wondering what the three could possibly have in common.
"No, not that we know of."
"Karen," Lieutenant Fisk demanded, "what did Semple tell you?"
While Karen told the others what they had learned yesterday, Jim tuned them out and kept wondering what this case was all about.
"Jim, I assume you're not asleep?" That was Marty. "So what's going on in that peculiar mind of yours?"
"Umm, I was just wondering what these three men have in common?"
"They were homeless, in case you've forgotten." There was a snide tone in Marty's voice.
"Yeah, I know, but what else?"
"Not race," Tom chimed in. "A white guy, one Hispanic and one Black."
"Maybe that's it." Karen sounded as if she didn't believe it herself, "they don't have anything in common."
"There's gotta be something." The Lieutenant sounded somewhat desperate.
"You know, Marty, maybe you are right."
"I told you so, Dunbar. Right about what?"
"They were homeless. What does homeless people have in common, apart from the obvious?"
"Shelters. Food lines." Karen turned toward Jim. "What about that creepy guy from the Church? Darren Jones?"
"I'll do a background check on him," Tom offered.
A while later Tom cheered, "I've got it!"
The four detectives went to the Lieutenants office.
"Boss, I think we've got him." Tom couldn't hide the excitement in his voice. "Darren Jones was volunteering in a food line in Hell's Kitchen back in November last year. Then he worked at the shelter Raúl Hernández sometimes stayed at. And of course, we already know that he knew Peter Bonner."
"Well done. But do we have any evidence saying he did it?"
"No, Boss, but I still like him for the murder." Jim was sure Darren Jones was the perp they were after.
"Well, you're not likely to get him to confess."
"Maybe," Marty was thinking out loud, "maybe you could go undercover as homeless, Dunbar."
"No, Marty, I – "
The Lieutenant interrupted Jim, "No, that's not going to work. He already knows you, Jim."
Jim didn't really want to go undercover but at the same time was pleased with the fact that the Lieutenant and Marty were considering him, even though he was blind and despite what happened the last time.
"I'll do it," Tom volunteered.
"Go for it." Marty grinned, "I would still like to see Dunbar in something less fancy than the suits he's usually wearing."
"You know what, Marty? I would still be the best dressed homeless man you ever saw!"