The Lost Ones
Derek Morgan was twenty-four years old, and an officer with the Chicago Police Department. He had graduated cum laude from Northwestern Law over two years ago.
One day, he hoped to join the FBI.
'A smart boy like you,' his mother had told him, 'You can do whatever you want.' She had not argued at his decision to join the police force first, even though the Bureau would have jumped at the chance of hiring someone of his calibre. He had told her he wanted to work this street-level justice first, that he didn't want to get so tied down in the hunt for evil that he forgot all about these minor injustices.
Of course, there were other reasons too. He did not need to tell his mother – she already knew.
The photo of his father, resplendent in dress blues, sat next to his own on his mother's mantelpiece. Though it had been fourteen years since his death, he still remembered the smiling, laughing face of a man who valued integrity above all else.
He was doing this to honor his father's memory.
He dressed carefully in the locker room that morning, unaware that the events of the day would change his life forever. It was not an ominous event – he dressed carefully every morning, still getting used to the novelty of wearing the uniform.
'You ready for another big day, kid?' asked Frank Pearson, Morgan's partner. Pearson was a man that Morgan both liked and respected. He was a career beat cop, the kind that never aspired to move up the chain of command. The streets were his domain. Pearson had been acquainted with Morgan's father, back in the day.
'Always, old man.' Morgan grinned, readily accepting the pat on the back given to him by Pearson.
The patrol car navigated the streets at Pearson's relaxed command. Just ten minutes into their shift, they had yet to encounter any problems.
'So how was dinner last night?' Every Thursday night, Morgan went to his mother's house for dinner. It gave him a chance to catch up with her, and his two sisters, Sarah and Desiree. Morgan grinned at the experience.
'Same old,' he said. 'Momma's still asking me when I'm gonna give her some grandchildren. As though I'm getting too old, or something.'
Pearson laughed. 'You tell her she can have some of mine. I've got far too many to dote on.'
'Don't tell her you said that,' Morgan warned him. 'I'm afraid she's gonna take you up on it. I'm going back tonight – Desiree wants to introduce us to her new-'
He stopped suddenly as Pearson braked. A woman had run out into the street in front of the car, waving her arms madly. They both recognized her – her name was Rita, and she was a local homeless woman. They pulled the car over to the side, Rita rushing to Pearson's door before he could get out.
'He's gone!' she was crying. Tears had washed away some of the dirt on her face, revealing mottled red skin.
'Whoah.' Pearson put a hand out. 'Calm down Rita. Tell me what's going on.'
Morgan exited the car silently, watching Pearson. He did not interfere; Pearson had been walking these streets since before he was born.
'It's Stevie...' She struggled to get the words out, tears consuming her. 'He's missing.'
Morgan and Pearson shared a glance. Stevie was a boy – a young man, really – that Rita had taken under her wing. He had been kicked out of home by his parents, and had taken to the streets. In the six months that Morgan had walked this beat, he had never seen Rita without Stevie. She was like a mother to him, only she actually cared.
'It's okay,' Pearson tried to reassure her. 'Can you tell me where you last saw him?'
She gestured vaguely to the alleyway behind them, where Morgan knew they spent most nights. 'I woke up this morning and he was gone,' she whimpered, clutching to Pearson's shirt. 'What if he doesn't want to live with me anymore? What if he's running back to his real family?'
Pearson assured her that they would ask around, see if anyone knew what happened. Though he would not admit it to Morgan, he was not confident of finding Stevie safe and well any time soon; if he had run away of his own accord, then there was technically nothing within the law they could do. If he had been taken by force, then it would be out of their hands – the detectives would handle it, if they even considered it a worthy use of their time. A missing homeless kid was not high on their list of priorities.
'Can you tell me how old Stevie was?' If the boy was above the age of majority, then their potential search might take a different path.
'He'll be twenty in November,' she told them sadly. 'I've been saving – I wanted to get him something nice this year. Something that he would be proud to have.'
'I bet he's proud to have someone like you, Rita,' said Pearson softly. Truth be told, he did not think that Stevie had run away of his own accord. There had to have been something else going on.
'Come on, Rick,' Pearson pleaded with the Detective. 'The kid didn't run away. I'm sure of it.'
'I understand that, Frank,' said Detective Rick Hamilton apologetically. 'But I can't just send people out investigating on your suspicions – I need hard evidence. Something more than a homeless woman's insistence.' He was thinking pragmatically – if they took every case that crossed their desks, then there would be three times as many failed marriages in the department than there already were.
'If you can find something that tells you this kid was taken violently, then I'll look into it, but until then, there's nothing I can do. If you want to be jerked around even more, I guess you could call the FBI field office, but I think they'd take this case even less seriously than me.'
Morgan stood to the side, his arm around Rita. Rick was a good friend of Pearson's, and had come to turn down the case in person as a matter of courtesy. He did care, Morgan knew, but then he also knew about the heavy caseload; the murder rate was somewhat higher than it had been the previous year.
They watched as Rick left, sending Rita a sympathetic smile.
They continued their questioning, having found no information of consequence before the arrival of the Detective. Technically speaking, they were shirking their duties, but neither Morgan nor Pearson gave much thought to the concept. They had more important things to do.
'Excuse me,' Morgan called to a man standing across the street; he was smoking a cigarette, watching them.
'I ain't doin' nothing, man.' Upon closer inspection, Morgan noticed the clothes that had not been washed in a week, the skin that had accumulated a layer of dirt.
'I just want to ask you a couple of questions.' He had not seen this man around in the area before – wondered if he was only a recent addition to the area.
The man exhaled his cigarette, giving Morgan an expression that might have mean "go on."
'A young homeless man went missing last night; nineteen years old, around 5'11", Caucasian. You see anything?'
The man relaxed, as if Morgan's line of questioning had not been what he was expecting, as if this particular matter at hand did not make him feel as uncomfortable as others might of.
'I wasn't here last night,' he admitted. 'A friend of mine, he...I was at a friend's place.'
Looking the man in the eye, Morgan did not think he was lying. He nodded his thanks and turned to leave.
'Wait,' the man put a partially gloved hand on his shoulder. 'Can I ask...why do you care?'
'A person is missing.' Morgan was slightly confused – why shouldn't he care?
'You're new, right? How long have you been in the force?' The man looks at him with a gaze that is critical, but not unkind.
'Don't let it get to you,' the man said, and before Morgan could ask what he meant, all that was left of his presence was a smouldering cigarette butt.
Officer Frank Pearson stared at the city shrouded in darkness. He had always worked the day shift, so seeing his regular beat at night always felt different. The streets were so similar, yet so unfamiliar. The buildings did not have the thick coating of scum that was so omnipresent during the daylight hours.
They had found nothing in their questioning during the day, but Pearson thought he would have better luck at night. It was around the same time Stevie had initially gone missing; anyone who stuck to a routine would be there.
Morgan was at his mother's house, meeting his sister's new boyfriend. He had not told the young officer where he was going, knowing that he would have insisted on joining him.
Tonight, he worked alone.
He jumped, startled, at the sound of a voice.
'You shouldn't have come back.'
Somewhere in the streets of Chicago, a shot sounded.