Get a grip, remember your training. Discipline and work saved you before, didn’t it? When you’d been beaten away from here? Now do your job and find her.
I dug in my pocket for the keys to the squad car, watched my hand insert the key into the ignition and turn it. The engine throbbed, the sound both warm and strange. I released the brake, twisted to the right and laid my arm along the back of the seat to back out of the driveway. A squeal of tortured rubber was followed by a muffled explosion. I turned back to my left, opened the door and stared directly into the face of the child I had been sent to find. She looked at me, then toward the back of the squad car and her face crumpled like a wrinkled pink melon with pigtails. Her shriek pierced me right through to the back of my eye sockets. I followed her look to the rear wheel. Splattered shreds of a red rubber playground ball splayed beneath the square-sided blackwall tire.
A booming voice superimposed the little girl’s wail. “What you doing to that child? Who you think you are, anyway?”
A bluff-bowed woman steamed directly toward me, swing fisted arms in rhythm with her stomping pace. Dad’s old Buick came to mind.
“Think that blue suit gives you the right to come in here and mess with folks, do you? What you done to this child? Where’s her gramma? Where’s Ethel?”
I rubbed my palm against my forehead. “The ambulance will be here in a moment, ma’am.”
“Ambulance? What you talkin’ about, boy?” The Buick woman was suddenly still. Her flabby arms reached out, drew the child close and held her against her flowered apron. “That’s all right, baby. That’s all right.” She looked up at me. “Where’s Ethel?” Then, “Don’t I know you, boy?”
I looked at the green shutters of the house. I looked at the scar in the red board fence where I had crashed my bicycle twenty years ago. I looked at the half-round window in the front door where I had last seen my mother smile. I closed my eyes. The past spun my insides, gripped me with memories, then deep red spattered across a black and white checkerboard tile floor raged in my mind’s eye. I breathed deep and shook my head.
“No ma’am, I don’t think so.” I said. “I don’t think you know me at all.”