Close to the middle alley between the tall, dark, vacated old buildings, beat cop Henry Clapper heard voices. Loud voices mixed with the wind. His hand touched his holstered gun nervously. He shivered in the chill of the October night. He’d kept out of trouble all these years, and he didn’t want to change that this close to retirement. He stopped and listened.
The sound was close yet seemed distant. The street lamp at the end of the block gave barely enough light for Henry to see the sidewalk. When he moved closer to the alley, he could hear shouts, and people screaming, hollering back and forth. He leaned against the side of the building and gazed upward. The sound intensified until it roared in his ears, but resonated as if from some distance. An odd sound.
With trepidation he stepped fully into the alley then quickly turned back to the street. Nothing. The wind scooting paper around created the only noise. He pulled out his flashlight and craned his neck upward to see boarded and broken windows. The alley, dead ended at an old, unused loading dock.
He sighed. People squatting where they shouldn’t be, watching TV and seeing him, they shut it off. Sure, that must be what it was. He turned back from the alley toward the street. Let them have their fun. It wasn’t hurting anyone and he didn’t want to hassle with it. He put the light away.
“Can you help me?” A whimpering voice echoed in the wind.
Henry stopped, frozen like a statue. The hair rose on the back of his neck, and a tingling went through his body. Dare he turn around? He rolled his eyes and smiled. No one was going to fool him into being afraid. He swung around to face a young boy standing near the staircase landing to the back door of one of the old abandoned buildings.
The expression on the boys pale face, framed with dark hair, was hard to explain. Fear, hurt, sadness. All three. And in the dark alley, how come Henry could see the boy as if he stood in bright moonlight? There was no moonlight.
“What . . .” Henry’s voice failed him, and he started again. “Kid, what are you doing out this late alone?” The boy wore a leather jacket with a snake emblem writhing up the left side. The symbol created a flashback to Henry’s younger days. Good boys and gangsters.
The boy stood so still. “I want to go home. Momma’s worried. I came to help my brother Tony but . . .”
“Tony?” Henry’s eyes watered with a strange fear, and his hand shook. All kids who grew up in the neighborhood knew Tony Rasso of the Serpents’ gang. And his little brother? Angel disappeared Halloween night thirty years ago . . .tonight and was never found.
“I came to help him, but now I can’t find my way home. Can you help me?”
This couldn’t be the same boy. Thirty years ago? Henry motioned to the pitiful face. “Come with me. I can take you home.” Henry turned to the street then turned back to see if the boy followed him. No boy, only the wind.
Henry couldn’t move. How could this be? He believed in God and this didn’t fit any pattern he’d ever heard of or experienced. There was only one place to go.
Henry knocked on the Parrish house door with a trembling hand. In a minute the door opened, and a priest Henry’s age stared at him.
“Yes? What is it?”
Henry opened his mouth then closed it.
“You look frightened to death. What’s wrong?
“Come with me.” He motioned and the priest came out, closed the door behind him and followed Henry.
When they reached the alley Henry didn’t know what to do. There was nothing there.
“Did someone need me?” the priest looked expectantly.
After a moment of silence, Henry shook his head. “No. Guess they’ve gone.”
Both men turned back to the street, and the same whimpering voice whirled in the alley.
“Tony? Tony, can I go home?”
The priest glared at Henry.
“It’s not me. It’s him.” With knees shaking, he pointed to the pale faced boy.
The priest turned making the sign of the cross. He stepped closer to the boy, but Henry stayed put.
“Angelo?” The priest’s voice was a whisper. “My brother . . .my brother! What happened to you?”
“I want to go home, Tony. Can you help me?” Angelo’s shoulders slumped. “I need to go home.”
“I’m sorry Angel. Forgive me.” The priest cried, and Henry began to put the story together. “Angel, can you tell me where you are? Where you went that night?”
“I came to help you.” The boy shook his head, and his face wrinkled in tears. “But they got me.” He held his side.
“Where are you Angel?” The priest pleaded.
The boy stretched out his arm with a slow, sweeping motion and pointed to one of the stairway landings. “There, I hid there waiting for you to come, but you didn’t come.”
Henry’s skin prickled with the tension. Tony Rasso, now Father Rasso, followed the pointing finger. Henry turned on his flashlight, but it shook so hard he held on with both hands.
Henry saw nothing under the platform, but Tony got down on his knees and crawled under. There was a small screened square which Tony lifted. The screen pulled away and he reached inside.
The priest came out with a dusty piece of cloth. The tattered leather jacket still held enough of the emblem to recognize. The Serpents. A jagged tear with a dark stain marked a spot on the chest.
“You can go home now, Angel. You go on home.” The priest whispered and lowered his head.
Henry shook himself. The alley darkened, and the boy was gone.