Joseph turned off the television and tossed the remote aside. He sat there on the bed, looking at the blank screen for a few moments, I haven’t watched TV for years, and still there’s not a single thing on. How is that possible? Shaking his head, he slid off the plush bed and walked over to the window. The storm-darkened sky caused the window to reflect his own distorted image back at him. A tangle of matted, salt-pepper hair hung about his head to his ears where a tangle of salt-pepper beard took over hanging down to his mid chest. Only sparse tendrils of hair covered the rest of his pale flesh, even his groin only held a few random strands of grey. After years on the street, wearing most of his wardrobe most of the time, his hands and face were the only parts of his body darkened by the sun. They weren’t tanned, more of a browned, and beaten. Even beneath all that hair, even in the rippled image of the window, deep ravines could be seen cut into his face by time and life. He felt alien amongst the plush giddiness of the yellow and white hotel suite.
Lighting spread across the cloudscape, illuminating everything beneath the sky. Joseph’s reflection was replaced, by his view from above of Creek Park buffeted by the storm. God, I hope the guys found a place to stay too. The light dissipated as quickly as it had come, and Joseph was again staring at himself, naked, amidst a luxurious hotel room he’d been snuck into by the manager as an act of charity.
The thunder rolled in a second later, shaking the window and Joseph. Must be right on top of us. Then another loud banging noise, much closer, almost inside the room. It repeated. What the hell was that? Again the pounding, he realized it was coming from the door and smiled sheepishly at no one. Pulling on his robe he walked over and reached for the brass nob when the knocks came again and he froze. I’m not supposed to be here. Should I answer? The click of the lock made his heart skip, the nob turned, he froze, the door creeped open, “Ola? Joseph? Es Maria, from the hotel, I have your laundry. Ola?” She stuck her head in the door and nearly jumped out of her skin to find him standing there, hand outstretched, robe open. “Dios! Senior. Its good to see you too.” her smile encompassed her eyes, and well, pretty much her whole face.
He followed her giggling gaze down and quickly closed his robe. “My eyes are up here.” He smiled back at her, turning 5 shades of red, and she giggled again. Turning to the main room she set the clothes on the bed and walked over to the remains of room service on the table. Joseph picked up the clothes and headed into the bathroom.
“Wow, Joseph, you certainly didn’t let any go to waste.”
“Only rich people let food go to waste.”
“Oh, I was just agreeing with you. What’s all these knives and papers and stuff?”
Joseph stuck his head out the bathroom door, “Those are my things, not worth anything to anyone but me.” Pulling back into the bathroom he continued to dress. The clothes looked like his, but he couldn’t remember them ever looking or smelling like this. The deep green pants and jacket had been almost black, and his long underwear was actually white for first time in years. His layers of shirts in blue, white, and brown barely held any stains. And the smell, I’d forgotten how good clean laundry smells.
Maria held the picture in her hand, gazing at the face. She couldn’t believe her eyes. “Joseph?”
“Where did you get this photo?”
“The soldier with his family?”
“Yes, the only photo you have. Do you know these people?”
“No, I found it on the street a few weeks back. I just liked it, they look so happy together, so I kept it. It was just laying there, I didn’t steal it or anything.”
“No, I didn’t think you had.” Maria couldn’t take her eyes off the photo. It was like staring at a ghost.
“If you look at the back, there’s some crazy writing I can’t read. Looks like some ancient language or something.”
“It’s Arabic. It says ‘Death to the enemies of Allah’.”
“You’re Muslim? I thought you were Hispanic.”
“You can be both, but I am not. My father is Puerto Rican, my mother is Lebanese. They are both Catholic. They met when he was stationed there in the 90s.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“De nada. The soldier in this picture, he’s the one from that terrorist attack last month.”
“What terrorist attack last month?”
“You didn’t notice all the explosions and sirens and gunfire?”
“Oh, yeah, that was terrorists?”
“And he was one?”
“No, he was a victim, a target actually. And his family, too. They live, well lived, around the corner from me. The whole front of their house was destroyed, and bodies all over the yard…. Mi Dios, what a horror. You say you found this on the street?”
“Yes. I didn’t know anything about that.”
“We should give this to the Sheriff.”
“It’s a picture of the victims with the language of the criminals on the back… seems like it might be evidence of something to me.”
“Well, okay, you can give it to them, but leave me out of it. Cops are nothin’ but hassle to me.”
“Maria! How are you?” Howard stood up and smiled over-large white teeth in a perfect row from out his perfect round face covered by perfectly cropped brown hair at Maria standing in the doorway to the Sheriff’s office. The dirty screen door slammed closed behind her, diffusing the mid-day sun into a soft, warm glow. She wore a lime green blouse, short sleeves, with frills on the cuffs and a faded pair of Capris. Her left arm rested on the blue jeans purse hanging across her body, the strap pulling on her shirt and accenting her bouncy round breasts.
“Is the Sheriff here?”
The entire office was several layers deep in dust over old brown wood and black plastic. Except for Lissa’s domain, her desk an oasis of hygiene in yellow and violet amongst the sea of filth. The 3 desks which belonged to the 2 deputies and her, were placed about the room so that they all faced center. The back wall, behind Howard, contained the holding cell on the right half and the bathroom on the left. The right wall, behind Andy’s desk, held the Sheriff’s office and a conference/interrogation room. The left wall, behind Lissa, contained monitors and radio equipment.
Deputy Howard Aimes shook his head, “Sorry, Maria, Sheriff’s not around. Can I help you with something?” Resting his hand on his gun, Howard did his best to look authoritative. His blue shirt and pants perfectly pressed, the only crease running down the mid-breast of the shirt and into the middle of the pant legs in perfect alignment. With his free hand he pulled up on his pants by the belt, to accent his package, not realizing it was hidden from Maria’s view by the computer. Lissa chuckled, watching him.
Reaching into her purse, Maria pulled out a photo as she walked towards his desk, “Actually, I think I can help you. A friend of mine found this photo on the street, I thought the Sheriff might find it interesting.”
Howard looked at the photograph, confused, “I don’t understand.”
“That’s the Daniel’s family.”
“Look at the back.”
“Looks like scribble to me.” He looked up at here, bemused.
“It’s Arabic. It means ‘Death to the enemies of Allah’.”
Howard stared at the writing again, as if he could translate it by looking hard enough. “You’re shitting me?”
“I shit you not.”
“This is a family photo. How would they have gotten their hands on this?”
“I don’t know. That’s your job, right?”
“Where did your friend find this?”
Maria looked at the floor. “On the street, in Claire Creek.”
“Yeah, but where?” Resting a hand on the desk, he leaned forward, doing his best to appear serious.
“Again, I don’t know, sorry.” Zipping up her purse, she turned to leave. Howard stepped around the desk towards her.
“Well, I want to talk to your friend.”
Maria shook her head and stepped back from the approaching deputy, “Sorry, he doesn’t want to talk to you. I made a promise.”
“What? Well that’s too bad, Maria. I need to know where and when he found this, and there’s a reward for information on this case…$1000.”
“Really? Well, I’ll tell him, but he’s not all together, you know…well.”
“He may not have a choice, Maria, nor will you. This is a big case.”
“I’ll talk to him, but don’t expect anything.” Maria turned and walked out. Deputy Aimes turned to Lissa.
“Get on the radio to the Sheriff., tell him we’ve had a development in the case. Then contact Andy and have him meet me over at the Daniels’ residence.”
“The new place, or the sight of the attack?”
“No, I want to talk to them…the new place.”
“And what about Fred?”
“Fred’s fine directing traffic, at least he can’t fuck that up.”
“Don’t bet on it.” Lissa placed the giant, black foam headset on, and began turning dials on the old radio system. Through the screech of static, she tried to raise the Sheriff. Finally, she gave up and grabbed her cell phone from her purse.
“Sheriff, you might want to come by the office , we got some new info on the Daniel’s case.” She rolled her eyes at Howard as the Sheriff replied. “Well, tell you what, you get me a system that works, and I’ll use it!” Snapping the flip phone, she turned back to the deputy and smiled, “he should be here soon.”