“I guess what we’re unclear on is why you were there in the first place,” the Denver Police Detective said.
Aden nodded. They were sitting in the Castle main living room. Samantha Hargreaves and Homeland Security Agent Arthur “Raz” Rasmussen were sitting on the couch across from him. He glanced at Samantha and she nodded.
“Charlie was supposed to be home,” Aden said. “This month, he’s working on his punctuality.”
“What does that mean?” the detective asked.
“Charlie is supposed to be on time everywhere,” Aden said. “He’s done pretty well, so he’s really dedicated to it. If he isn’t late more than three times, he gets to take his girlfriend out to dinner and a movie – no chaperone. He was pretty excited about that. This would have been his fourth time being late.”
“So you went looking for him,” the detective said.
“I guess I wanted to help him out,” Aden said. “He’s …”
Aden’s voice caught.
“Charlie was a street kid,” Raz said. “He’s dedicated to improving himself. School, workouts, living here. It’s all new.”
“He’s a good kid,” Aden said. “Just needed a chance.”
“So you saw the fight,” the detective said. “How’d you know it was Charlie?”
“I saw his hat,” Aden said. “I called the police when I saw the fight. I didn’t know it was Charlie then. I’d just parked on Broadway and went looking for him. He walks up 15th and takes the Colfax bus. I saw the fight, called the police and then …”
“I saw Charlie’s knit cap and I … threw myself at the men … I …”
Aden fell forward. He caught himself with his elbows on his knees. His eyes stared straight ahead at the wood floor.
“Docs say you probably saved his life,” the detective said.
When Aden didn’t respond, Samantha Hargreaves hefted herself on her feet. Now that she was standing, her pregnancy was evident. She walked the detective to the door, and sat next to Aden on the couch. She put her hand on Aden’s knee and he looked at her.
“I know it seems impossible,” Samantha said. “But Charlie is young and healthy. Well loved. He’s going to be fine.”
Aden’s head went up and down in a nod. His mind was numb and his ears filled with a kind of buzzing. Samantha said something else and Raz said something. Aden got up and walked them out of the house.
He sat down on the couch.
A few minutes later, Delphie’s new charge, Keenan, sat down next to him. Not saying a word, the boy leaned against Aden.
They sat in silence, staring straight ahead, and listened to the buzzing.
“I remember being loved,” Charlie said. “Drugs. When I was high, I remembered being loved.”
“Am I dying?” Charlie asked.
“Not yet,” Mitch said.
“Brain damage?” Charlie asked.
Mitch shook his head.
“Cool scar?” Charlie asked.
“I’m dying, aren’t I?” Charlie asked.
“It’s touch and go,” Mitch looked out to the lake. “If you asked me, I’d tell you that you’ll be fine. But I’m not a doctor.”
“Seth always says you were a …” Charlie said.
“Bloody optimist,” Mitch and Charlie said together and laughed.
“You know Jake?” Charlie asked.
“Jacob Marlowe,” Mitch said. “Didn’t know him in life, but I know of him now.”
“O’Malley,” Mitch said.
“What about him?” Mitch asked.
“He has these kind of dreams,” Charlie said. “But he sees his dead mother.”
“Celia?” Mitch asked.
“How did you know?” Charlie asked.
“I knew her,” Mitch smiled.
Charlie nodded and they sat for a while listening to the music.
“If it’s any consolation, O’Malley comes to this lake when he’s in between,” Mitch said.
“Am I in between?” Charlie asked.
“Would you go back?” Mitch asked.
“It’s going to be months of pain,” Mitch said.
“You’ll have to leave the city,” Mitch said.
“I’d go back,” Charlie said.
“You’ll have to deal with doctors and recovery and a whole bunch of bullshit you aren’t very good at,” Mitch said.
“I can learn,” Charlie said.
“I can spare you all of it,” Mitch said.
Charlie scowled at Mitch. He stood up and walked away from the tree they’d been sitting under. He ran into Mitch.
“What did I do?” Mitch asked.
“You’re not my dad,” Charlie said.
“Why do you say that?” Mitch asked.
“My dad fought like hell to stay here,” Charlie said. “I remember it. Every day, every moment of every day, he fought. His last breath. He fought for his last breath. My dad would never tell me not to go back.”
“I want to spare you all of that,” Mitch said. “I want to …”
Charlie squinted at the man. For the briefest moment, the man aged into his father before death. Shriveled and bent, Mitch gasped for a breath. A moment later, he was young and healthy looking again.
“You’re my son,” Mitch said. “I would spare you all of that.”
“It’s my life, Dad,” Charlie said. “I have to live the good and bad of it.”
Mitch sniffed at Charlie repeating something he used to say. Charlie smiled. They were standing outside Denver Health. They started walking toward the operating room.
“You’ll be with me, right?” Charlie asked.
“I’m with you or your sister all the time,” Mitch said.
“What?” Mitch said.
“You’re with O’Malley all the time,” Charlie said. “You’re only here because he is.”
“Guilty as charged,” Mitch laughed.
He held out his arms and they hugged.
“I’ll be there any moment you say my name,” Mitch said. “It’s going to be hard.”
“But I’ll get through it,” Charlie said.
“Yes,” Mitch said.
They were standing in the operating room. Charlie’s body was stitched up and ready to go to recovery. Charlie got onto the hospital gurney and lay down. The orderly rolled the bed out of the operating room. Charlie waved to his father as he went past.
Charlie opened his eyes to see Sandy’s worn and tear stained face.
“Love you, Sandy,” Charlie tried to say. His tongue felt like it was four sizes too big. He seemed to be missing a tooth or two. And everything hurt.
“I love you too,” Sandy whispered and started to cry.
Charlie wasn’t sure where the voice came from. Wearing a hospital gown, he got up from his hospital bed and looked outside his room. There was a man standing at the end of the hallway. The man wore torn blue jeans and a faded T-shirt. His hair was deep chestnut. Charlie couldn’t tell how old he was, older than Charlie that’s for sure.
“I’ve never been in the hospital before,” Charlie said.
The man grinned.
“’Sept that one time,” Charlie said. “But that was because of Sandy. She wanted me to …”
The man laughed.
“Want to take a walk?” the man asked.
“I think I should stay here,” Charlie said. “My sister will be here soon and …”
“Sandy?” the man asked. “She’s here.”
The hallway faded away. Charlie was lying on a table. There was a man standing over him shouting orders to a woman who was handing him surgical instruments.
“He’s regaining consciousness,” a woman near his head yelled.
Charlie felt like his entire body was on fire. He tried to scream but there was a tube down his throat.
“Put him under,” the man standing over him said. “Now!”
Charlie was standing in the hallway again.
“I didn’t see her,” Charlie said.
The man laughed.
“Dad,” Charlie said.
“Yes, son,” Charlie’s dad, Mitch Delgado said.
“I was just checking to see if it was you,” Charlie said. “Am I dying?”
“Everyone’s there,” Mitch nodded. “The Oracle too. She says she warned you.”
“Delphie?” Charlie asked. He thought for a moment before nodded. “She told me that some people were mad at me for testifying.”
Charlie thought for another moment.
“Yeah, I guess she did warn me,” Charlie said.
“You didn’t listen?” Mitch asked.
“I’m sixteen,” Charlie grinned. “I think I’m invincible.”
Mitch laughed. The scene changed. They were sitting in City Park under a big tree. A band was playing jazz music. Charlie knew there should be people here, but it was oddly empty. He squinted to look at the band stand. It was empty. He looked at his father.
“I loved coming here to listen to music,” Mitch said. “Do you mind?”
“Can I wear something else?” Charlie asked. He gestured to his bare behind. “The grass is chaffing my ass.”
Mitch laughed. He snapped his fingers and Charlie was wearing jeans and a ragged T-shirt. He realized he looked almost identical to this man, his father, Mitch Delgado. Charlie grinned and Mitch gave him a near identical grin back.
“I loved you, Charlie,” Mitch said. “Most of all.”
“What about Sissy?” Charlie asked.
“I love your sister,” Mitch said. “But a daughter is different from a son. I wanted to see you grow up.”
“Both of you,” Mitch said. “I … You can ask O’Malley.”
“If you loved us?”
“I know you loved us,” Charlie said.
He looked down at the ground and marveled at how real it all felt. A warm summer breeze brought the fetid smell of goose poop to him. Charlie grinned.
“How? How did you know I loved you?”
“I remember,” Charlie said. He looked at Mitch. “I remember how much you loved us.”
“You’re mad I’m dead,” Mitch said in a matter of fact way.
“’S more complicated than that,” Charlie’s words slurred. “Sorry I …”
“It’s the drugs,” Mitch said. “They’re having trouble keeping the addict under sedation.”
Charlie nodded and swallowed hard.
“Complicated?” Mitch asked.
“I just wanted us to be a family again,” Charlie said. “I wanted Sandy to move back home and you to not die and Sissy not to be sick and …”
“You remember being happy,” Mitch said.
“I remember being loved,” Charlie said. “Drugs. When I was high, I remembered being loved.”
Charlie continued up the street. He’d planned on going into the Pavilion to get something nice for Tink, but he’d stayed at work. Everything was closed. He stopped on the corner of 15th Avenue and Glenarm and wondered if he should chance it. Tink was very upset about Blane. Charlie had wanted to get her something to cheer her up. Charlie bit his lip and looked at his watch. She’d probably rather that he got home before she had to go to bed. Proud of himself for making such a good decision, he promised himself he’d go tomorrow before work.
He kept walking up 15th Street. He walked past the darkened entryway to the parking lot when he heard something that sounded like an out breath. He sensed more than saw movement. He ducked and missed a baseball bat moving in his direction. Charlie took off running.
Five young men followed close behind. Charlie ran as fast as he could. He crossed Colfax and entered Civic Center park. They caught up with him in Civic Center park. One of the men reached out and grabbed him. Charlie and the man fell. Charlie tried to roll to get the man off him, but the young man held on fast.
“Dis is for my brother,” a young man said.
He raised the baseball bat and Charlie tucked his knees and head. The blow was hard and hurt like hell. Charlie screamed.
“For my brother,” another man said before he started kicking Charlie.
“You neva shoulda told no body ’bout no whores,” another man kicked Charlie.
“Dem whores wanted it,” the young man with the baseball bat said.
The man on the ground with Charlie tried to make him untuck, but Charlie held on fast. Charlie knew how to take his beatings.
But this was worse than anything he’d ever experienced.
These guys wanted to kill him.
These guys were going to kill him.
Charlie kept his head down and the blows rained down. His mind slipped and he was thinking about Tink. She was so beautiful, especially in the morning or late at night. Out of nowhere, he saw Sandy’s face. She was laughing at something he’d done. He felt so loved, so happy. He tried to say something.
“I love you,” Charlie said.
“What is it, son?” Aden’s voice came out of nowhere. “Charlie?”
Charlie opened his eyes. Aden’s hands were bloody and his breath was ragged. His face was swelling from being hit. Charlie’s eyes fixed on Aden’s torn work shirt. They were lit up by the red and blue dancing light of a police cruiser.
“You didn’t have to stay another hour,” Sophia said.
Charlie shrugged and held the door open for her.
“I just want you to know that I appreciate it,” Sophia said.
Charlie pulled the door closed, and Sophia locked the door to Sam’s No. 3 on 15th Street. Charlie gave it a tug to make sure it was locked. They had closed up the restaurant. The cooks and clean-up crew were still inside. Their job was to clean up the restaurant and make sure the doors were locked. They went to the bar entrance and checked that it was locked. It was supposed to be Sophia’s job, but she always got a little scared being there at night. The manager let Charlie stay so she wouldn’t have to be alone.
“I feel a little safer having you here,” Sophia said.
“I can walk you to your car,” Charlie said.
“That would be nice,” Sophia said. “Do you want a ride home?”
“Nah,” Charlie said. “We live in the other direction from you. Plus, I can take the bus.”
They turned up 15th Street and walked a few blocks to a cheap paid parking lot. Sophia unlocked her car.
“You sure you don’t want a ride?” Sophia asked. “It’s no problem.”
“I’m okay,” Charlie said. “It’s nice to walk for a bit after getting off work. Clears my head.”
“I bet,” Sophia said.
“Plus, I spent a lot of years on the streets,” Charlie gave her a bright smile. “It’s nice to roam a little before going home.”
Sophia smiled and got in the car. Like Aden had taught him, Charlie waited for her to start the engine. She waved to him and took off out of the parking lot. Charlie waved and started up 15th Street.
He walked at an even pace, not too fast, not too slow. The night was cold, but not icy. He zipped up his warm jacket. At the stop light, he opened his backpack and dug around for his hat and gloves. He was so focused on what he was doing that he didn’t notice the young men who came up behind him. When the light turned, they pushed past him to cross the street. Charlie tugged on his hat and started across the street. He pulled his gloves on as he went.
He continued up 15th Street and past the big Hyatt Regency across from the Convention Center.
“Heya, Charlie!” one of the bellmen yelled to him.
Charlie waved and kept walking. The bellman often came into Sam’s on his dinner break. Charlie remembered the bellman from when he’d been a street kid. The bellman wasn’t as nice to him then. Charlie smiled to himself. It was nice to be on the other side now. He had a job. He had a family. He had a warm house, a Castle no less, to go home to. Charlie felt pretty rich.