Excerpt

When we reached the Boxster, I popped the door unlocked with the smart key.

“The girl could be anywhere now,” Hank said.

I rubbed my face. “You figure she was using too?”

“Crack? That’s an old man’s game these days. You saw the skells back there. Kids today stay away from that shit.” The streetlight shone through the windshield and Hank could see my hands shaking as I keyed the engine.

“You better take it slower, counselor,” he said.

I breathed deeply and put my hands on the top of the steering wheel. “I’m running out of time,” I said. “I’ve got just about a week left to find Michelle.”

“And convince her all over again to testify.”

I looked at Hank. He was right. I hadn’t thought of that. After living on the streets, she could be in no mood to testify and I couldn’t force her. What was I going to do, go to court and ask a judge to enforce a subpoena on a fourteen-year-old to attend a civil trial? She was damaged enough without that. And if she did testify, there was a good chance she would self-destruct on the stand, taking my case with her. It had happened before. Fragile kids don’t suddenly heal before your eyes.

Hank and I drove back to Ms Piggy’s, but Ganja Man had done a disappearing act, the booth was now occupied by two sailors staring up at a topless zombie. Maizie wasn’t around either and I had reached another dead end. Everywhere I looked for Michelle Williams had turned out to be a dead end. It was after midnight and I was tired, too tired to think straight anymore.

Outside on the street the air was frosty and a chill came over my body, causing me to shiver. We stood there for a few minutes, scoping the street scene; no commuters hurrying home, only whores waiting for the drunks to come out of the bars. Hank said to me, “It doesn’t add up, does it?”

“You mean why would someone go to so much trouble to sidetrack a search for a runaway girl?”

“Exactly.”

“You think someone is trying to hide her?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“But why?”

Hank laughed. “If we knew that, we’d have a good lead on finding her.” Two hookers strolled by, dressed in hot pants, oblivious to the winter chill. They eyeballed us as they passed, not saying anything, not sure if we weren’t off-duty cops looking for a freebie. They just tried to make eye contact. They didn’t.

“This is not something the girl could dream up on her own,” I said.

“Or with Tamika Edwards,” Hank said.

“It’s got me stumped. I’m going to go home and sleep on it. Can I give you a lift anywhere?”

He tilted his head towards the subway entrance. “I’m okay; I’m just going to grab a train,” he said.

I gave him the thumbs up and started back to my car.

“Watch out for Sugar,” Hank said, “and his buddies. They’re going to want their guns back.”

I nodded. One more problem to work out.