Home > Little Lies(3)

Little Lies(3)
Heather Gudenkauf

“Is that your mommy outside?” I ask, trying not to sound too eager. “Is your mommy the lady with the brown hair? She’s wearing a white shirt?” The boy swipes the back of his hand across his runny nose and nods. I smile encouragingly at him and tilt the bag of crackers toward him. “Want one?” He shakes his head no. Despite the frigid air outside, the back of the ambulance is warm and I unzip my parka. The little boy’s cheeks are bright pink and slightly scaly, as if windburned. “Can you tell me your mommy’s name?”

I can barely hear him speak; his voice is soft and thick from crying. I lean in more closely. “Mommy’s hurt?” He looks pleadingly at me as if begging me to say no, that his mommy is going to be just fine.

“Yes,” I say.

He lets out a long, tremulous breath and begins to weep again, his eyes screwing tightly shut as if trying to block out all that he must have seen tonight. I move to sit next to him, but before I’m even seated, he is in my arms. His arms, thin even within his heavy coat, wrap tightly around my neck as the ambulance sets off quietly without its sirens blaring, so as to not alert the local residents of the violence that has occurred just outside their doors. The journey to the hospital is a short one, but by the time we arrive, my neck is damp with his tears and he refuses to release his grasp on me. Awkwardly, I climb from the back of the ambulance, still holding the child. We are greeted with a polar blast of air and flashing lights. A lone photographer is snapping our picture. I wonder how the press could have learned so quickly about this. “Keep your head down,” I whisper to the boy. “The wind is cold.” I do my best to keep his face covered as we move to the hospital’s emergency entrance.

After much cajoling and reassurance that I’m not going anywhere, the boy surrenders to the care of a nurse. I should be contacting the emergency foster care family who is poised to step in during extreme situations such as this, but I delay the inevitable. I promised the boy that I would be nearby while he was being checked over by a doctor and I will. Right now I’m the only friend he has in the world. Fatigue sweeps over me and I sink into an empty chair to wait.

* * *

I wake to the sound of a crying infant and for a moment I think it’s Avery. I gather my bearings and quickly realize I’m still at the hospital. A thin gray light barely penetrates the windows and I glance at my watch. 7:25 a.m. “He’s sleeping,” the same nurse who took the child when we arrived says, pointing to an examination room. I stand, stretch and peek into the room, and the boy is tucked beneath a white blanket and sleeping peacefully in a toddler-sized hospital crib.

“He’s okay?” I ask. “Did he tell you his name?”

“He’s not hurt,” the nurse assures me, “but he wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us anything about who he is and where he came from.”

“Well, certainly someone will come looking for him today,” I say with more conviction than I feel. “I have to make a few calls. Will you come get me if he wakes up?” The nurse nods and I move toward a window in hopes of better cell reception. First I call Caren Regis, my supervisor at DHS, and fill her in as to what is happening, then I try to get ahold of Joe to find out if the woman in the park has been identified, but his phone goes right to voice mail. Finally, I phone Martha Renner, the foster mother that I hope will take the boy in for the time being. She has often worked with children who have been through unthinkable experiences. I don’t know what our world would be like if we didn’t have such selfless women and men step in to be surrogate mothers and fathers for these children. In fact, she was the foster mother of a child who appears to have gone through the exact same situation as our little John Doe. Thirteen years ago.

I sense a presence behind me and turn to find Joe. He looks as spent as I feel. “Nice hair,” he says as he hands me one of the two cups of coffee he is holding. My free hand flies to my head and I self-consciously run my fingers through the matted mess, wild after being stuffed inside a wool hat all night.

“Nice hat,” I shoot back, nodding pointedly at his own head. “You look like a Russian hunter.”

He shrugs good-naturedly. “Keeps my ears warm. How was the kid’s night?”

“He’s still sleeping. Martha Renner, his temporary foster care mother, will be here in a few minutes. Listen, we’ve got to talk about this. The more I think about the similarities to...”

Joe holds up a hand and looks around the hospital hallway, now filling with doctors and nurses. “Let’s go somewhere a little more private.”

“I promised I wouldn’t go far in case the boy wakes up.” I shake my head in disgust. “We can’t go on calling him the boy. We need to find out his name, find out who he is.”

“We will,” Joe assures me. “Someone will come forward soon. He was obviously well cared for. Clean, dressed warmly. A husband, boyfriend to the woman will call us looking for her.”

“Unless he was the one who murdered her.”

Joe nods thoughtfully. “That’s usually the case.”

“But you don’t think so in this one?” I ask, fearing his response. Together we return to the area just outside the room where the boy is sleeping and sit down.

“You tell me what you’re thinking,” Joe says. “And I’ll play devil’s advocate.”

“How about, you tell me what you’re thinking and I play the devil’s advocate,” I counter. “You always get to play Satan.”

“Fair enough.” Joe drinks deeply from his coffee cup before speaking. “Thirteen years ago, a homeless woman and her five-year-old son were found in Singer Park. The woman had been murdered and her body placed beneath a statue of a nearly naked woman.”

“It’s a statue of a Greek goddess,” I clarify. “And she’s not naked.”

“A Greek goddess,” he amends. “The woman was identified as Nell Sharpe and her son, Jonah, who was unharmed, was put into foster care. The crime was never solved.”

“All true,” I agree.

“Thirteen years later, we find the body of an unidentified woman and her unhurt son in the same park, beneath the same statue.”

“A body is found in that park at least once a year. Granted most aren’t murders, but it has happened,” I say in my role as devil’s advocate.

“The victim from thirteen years ago died from blunt force trauma to the head. This victim appears to have died in a similar way.”

“Coincidence,” I counter.

“I hope so—something we’ll have to look into anyway,” Joe says, standing and stretching his large frame. “How’s Jonah doing now? He has to be, what, nineteen years old?”

“He’s eighteen, almost nineteen. Never was legally adopted by anyone. Kept coming back to live with Martha Renner when he got kicked out of other foster and group homes. Good kid at heart, but made some poor choices.”

A nurse in bright pink scrubs approaches us. “The little boy is just waking up now,” she says. “I’ll make sure he gets some breakfast.”

I thank her and as Joe and I go to the examination room I reach up and pluck the fur hat from his head. “No need to scare him first thing in the morning.”

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