THE PAPERBOY

“What I want is facts, boy!”

The detective’s voice came from behind the bright light that blinded Joel. It was a painful voice. Each word sharp and piercing.

The paperboy felt limp and sweaty. The heat from the lamp made his mouth dry. “I don’t know what happened,” he croaked.

“You’re a liar!” The words were ice picks in Joel’s ears.

Billy Crudbow, a bully and high school dropout on Joel’s route, was found dead and hanging by his shirt collar from the 6-foot, chain-link fence beside the Smith’s house just after dawn.

“Your footprints were all over the place!” the prickly voice shrieked.

Joel tried to lick chapped lips with a sandpaper tongue. “He chased me. He always chases me Sunday mornings. He’s a mean drunk.”

“How did you get him up THERE?” The detective stressed the last word to sting.

“Where?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, you little twerp.”

Joel’s head sagged. His mind wondered back through the haze to 2:00 AM. He was pulling a bad throw from the Jackson’s bushes. Tires screeched behind him. He heard Billy’s voice, “I gotcha this time punk!” The bars were closed. Billy was hammered.

“Joel rasped, “I heard Billy. I ran.” His throat was on fire. “I need a drink.”

The detective’s stabbing reply was swift, “I ain’t no waitress, cupcake. Tell me what went down and you can drink all you want.”

“I ran for the Smith’s house. They’re in the Poconos.” Joel tried to swallow. He was spitless. “I climbed the fence. Billy was on top of me.”

“The yard was tore up, boy. Must have been some fight.”

“No! Billy was wasted. He fell all over the place. The lawn was soggy…”

Joel heard a door open. “You stay put!” The staccato words riveted him in place.

In the hall Captain Mason pinned the detective to the wall. “Kid’s parents are in the lobby with the press. He’s fifteen, you idiot!”

“You’re kiddin’ me, right?”

“The M.E. says the vic slipped. Got tangled in his own shirt tryin’ to crawl back over the fence. Had a blood alcohol level of 2.1.”

“So, I let the kid go. No big deal.”

“Here’s the deal, Sherlock! I’m not takin’ a fall ‘cause one of my detectives harassed a minor without his parents or an attorney present.”

“But…”

“Your butt, not mine. Now fix this and keep the stink off me.” The captain stormed away.

Rock music blared inside the dimly lit garage. Joel liked being up when the rest of the world was asleep. The papers were small today. Easy to roll. He’d probably take them all in one trip.

Joel folded the papers with the headline facing out for the first time ever. The thick rubber bands cut across the throat of the detective’s picture on the front pages. The headline was easy to read as the pile of papers grew on the concrete floor. “Detective Discharged!”

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