The entry way was dark, but the sound of pump shotgun being racked was familiar. From the darkness, Huck called out, “Step inside and keep your hands up.” I stepped inside. “Shut the door, Konan.” I shut the door. “Lock it, and then get on your knees, interlace your fingers behind your head, and look at the ground.” Again, I complied with Huck’s wishes.
He stepped from the shadows, and I felt a rough hand pull my wallet from my back pocket. Huck dropped it in front of me and said, “Get up.”
Huck stood in front of me, a pregnant woman stood in the doorway behind him. We looked at each other, then Huck grinned and embraced me.
“Look at you, man. You look great,” he said, as he tried to squeeze the air from my lungs. I laughed and patted him on the back. “So do you, brother.”
The pregnant woman came to his side, and he nodded at her. “This is my wife, Jasmine. We’re expecting our first child. It’s a boy,” he said proudly. A banging noise came from the door. Huck aimed the shotgun at the door, but I waved him off.
“It’s my partner, Lilly Thompson. She’s probably freaking out.”
I opened the door, and Lilly stared at me. She looked over my shoulder at the Huck and Jasmine. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, Lilly. Put your sidearm away, and come on in.”
Lilly shoved her sidearm into her holster, and walked in. I pulled the door shut until it clicked. Huck lowered his shotgun and gave Lilly a nod. I motioned to Huck and Jasmine.
“Lilly, this is my friend Huck and his wife Jasmine. Y’all this is my partner Lilly Thompson.”
Huck nodded, and Jasmine whispered, ‘hello.’ Together, the four of us, five if you count the baby, walked into a large open room. We sat on modern furniture, Jasmine and Huck on the couch, Lilly and I in individual chairs.
“So, what brings you here, Konan?”
“I’m in a bind and need your help.”
“That goes without saying, hoss. What kind of trouble?”
Jasmine motioned for Lilly to follow her into the kitchen, leaving me and Huck to talk business. I waited until they cleared the living room and then turned to my friend.
“I’ve got a murdered three-year-old, a crooked preacher, a corrupt lawyer, and no evidence. There’s nothing in the financials to prove anything. I need someone to dig deeper, and I need it done on the QT.”
“This doesn’t sound legal, this thing you’re asking me to do. If I’m caught, I go to jail for life.”
The unspoken of past surfaced between us. Huck was kind enough to not mention it to me, but I felt the sting of my betrayal. He didn’t need to say anything, I knew.
“This will not be a replay of the last time, Huck. I should have said something back then, but I didn’t. I can’t change the mistakes of the past. But I can make sure to not repeat them in the future.”
“Konan, I forgive you, hoss.”
He gave me a sad grin, and I nodded. “I know,” I said in a low voice, “but I’ve paid for it ever since that moment. No man left behind means everyone comes home, and I failed to live up to it.”
“If I help you, I want a promise.”
“Should anything happen to me, I want Jasmine and my son take care of.”
“It’s not like that, Huck.”
“You don’t know that, Konan. Promise me.”
“I promise, Huck. On my life, should anything happen to you, I will protect Jasmine and your child.”
“Give me what you have on these cretins.”
“Thank you, Huck.”
“Don’t thank me yet, hotshot. We’ll meet at the old library, in the computer lab, on Tuesday at 1100.”
“All right. I’ll see you Tuesday.”
Jasmine and Lilly walked into the room after we finished conversing. Lilly held a cup of coffee and wiggled it at me. I grinned. Huck looked at me and smiled.
“You know, you’re not supposed to hook up with your partner. It’s in bad form.”
“Says a guy that had a six-year affair with his commander’s wife.”
“That’s why I said it, hoss. I know a thing or two about bad decisions.”
We both laughed. Jasmine and Lilly joined us, both engaged in talking baby names. Huck and I caught up and talked about narrow escapes, memories of people we served with, and the horrors of military service. Near midnight, Lilly and I left.
Huck and Jasmine stood in the doorway and waved goodbye to us. A hot tear stung my eye, and I waved goodbye. He hadn’t needed to do what I asked him, but he did. I suppose tried and true friendships are rare, and even when there’s a dirty piece of business involved, true friends can move past it.
At least, that was the case of me and Huck.
On Tuesday, at 1100 sharp, Lilly and I walked to the back of the old library to the computer lab. Huck sat at a table, a copy of the Boston Globe in his hands, as he perused the headlines. I caught him looking over the edge of the paper. I didn’t need to see his mouth, I knew Huck was smiling. He nodded at Lilly.
“She’s even prettier in the sunlight. I can see why you’re breaking the rules.”
“Shut up, Huck. Then un-shut up and tell me what you have.”
He shoved a three-inch thick file toward Lilly and set the paper aside. His eyes held no warmth or mirth. I met his gaze and waited.
“Your girl, she was sick. She had Osteosarcoma, bone cancer. It’s rare she had it, and even more rare that she had it at age three. The girl was…in a bad way, brother.”
I pulled out my notepad and wrote ‘Cancer?’
Huck continued. “I ran the financials for the family. They couldn’t afford to pay for her treatments, man. Even with help, they were drowning. Your preacher though, he’s a whole other cat.”
“Let’s finish with the family, first. What kind of help? Like loans?”
Huck looked around the room, no one paid us any attention. To be safe, I moved my chair to the side, so I could watch the door.
“They have a GoFundMe set up for her. There’s a few thousand dollars in it. It’s emptied out often. Their bank account is all zeroes, brother. That’s where your preacher comes in.”
In my notepad I wrote, ‘empty bank account, GoFundMe.’ Huck gave me a sympathetic grin, I knew what was coming. I’d seen it too many times.
“You know, Konan, where there’s carrion, there’s vultures.”
“Tell me,” I sighed.
“Every penny in the family’s bank account is in Rev. J.E. Caster’s account. Every penny. The deed for their house was transferred to him as well.”
“He owns the house, he has their money, Jesus. What is wrong with people?”
“It gets worse, brother. Every possession, and I mean EVERYTHING, was given to the church.”
“And they still haven’t been purged,” Lilly snapped. She scooted her chair back and walked out of the lab. People looked up at the racket, and their eyes followed Lilly out.
“Yeah, it’s complicated. The good reverend preaches you can buy a seat in heaven.”
“Yeah,” Huck said, “I’m not much of a Christian, but I don’t think that’s how that works. Anyway, there is no money in the account. Their house, vehicles, television, all of it, belongs to Rev. J.E. Caster. I know you don’t need any help forming an opinion Konan, but I’m gonna take a stab at something.”
“Sure, Huck. Go for it.”
“Cancer treatment is expensive, unrealistically expensive. I think the parents might have took matters into their own hands.”
“It’s possible, Huck. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.”
“Everything is in the file. If you need anything else, just stop by.”
“I will, brother. Thanks for your help.”
“Anytime, Konan. Oh, Jasmine decided on a first name for the baby.”
“Oh yeah? What are you tagging him with?”
“We’ve decided to name him, Konan-with a K. If we have a girl, we’re going to name her Lilly.”
“You don’t have to do that, brother.”
“I know. It’s hard to find friends you can count on. Jasmine liked the way it rolled off the tongue. Tag, you’re it.”
“Awesome. Tell Jasmine I said thank you.”
“I will. Be safe.”
Huck walked out of the lab, and I waited for five minutes to pass before I left. Some habits are hard to break, and both Huck and I were creatures of habit. Lilly waited for me in the foyer with a pint of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream in hand. She licked her lips and slid another scoop into her mouth.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Ready to go hurt somebody. Who are we hurting first?”
“Let’s go see the family. I’m sure they have a rational explanation for not telling us the truth.”