Excerpt: The Last Time She Saw Him

Funland 1977

All around us, they descended for one last brilliant summer hurrah.

The Detroit summer refugees invaded our beaches like the Allies swarming Normandy on D-Day and claimed the best our town of Sparrow had to offer during its shining season. My older brother, Ben, and I had watched them all summer long from the top step of the bandstand at the end of Grand Haven Avenue or perched along one of the white wooden boardwalk benches if we were lucky enough to nab an empty seat on what was considered prime Lake Huron real estate.

Our parents couldn’t afford a TV, let alone the rent most months, so Ben and I depended on the out-of-towners for our entertainment. Ben and I would share a skinny carton of Dolle’s caramel corn and look on with rapt curiosity as men in hideous Hawaiian shirts scanned the beach with metal detectors for lost treasure while their wives padded up and down the shore in high-waisted two-piece bathing suits. They occasionally glanced over with detached interest at their sunburned-crisp children, who dug furiously for mole crabs in the damp sand. The teenage crowd always set up camp near the jetty. Maybe it felt more dangerous there. They smoked cigarettes and drank Tab from a can as their boom boxes belted Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s “Night Moves.”. And the days of summer along the eastern Michigan shore slowly slipped by.

On Labor Day weekend, the final surge of tourists arrived en mass, but Ben and I didn’t need them anymore. We were ready to reclaim our town. With twenty whole dollars in our pockets, guilt money Daddy had given us, Ben and I wove through the crowd, which was fifty people deep, our feet slapping against the wooden planks of the boardwalk in the cheap sneakers Mom had bought us at the A&P. I watched Ben’s suntanned lean arms and legs fly in front of me as seagulls screeched overhead, the scavengers searching to pluck a stray, plump French fry from a careless hand, and the cloying aroma of suntan lotion clung to the sticky September air. A patina of sweat glistened on my skin and made my thin jumper feel tacky against my reed-thin frame. My long, dark hair, flecked with strands of red from the sun, was caught in a ponytail and thumped against my back as I tried to keep up with Ben.

Even though I had just turned seven the week before, I already wondered whether, if I could will something hard enough, the universe would budge ever so slightly and things would shift in my favor. On that afternoon, I truly believed my desperation did just that.

In that one perfect moment, Sparrow was ours again. We didn’t care about the start of another school year come morning or recent memories of last spring, when Ben, our older sister, Sarah, and I were forced to jockey for a comfortable spot to sleep in the backseat of my Dad’s rusted-out Chrysler, the one he would simultaneously swear and pray would “son of a bitch, dear God, please catch!”

Ben and I silently ached for something good to finally happen, and there it was, shimmering in the heat just a block away: Funland, the Holy Grail of all that was wonderful in our fragile, young lives. The amusement park was housed in a modest wooden building on the beach block of Great Lakes Avenue. Funland didn’t look like much on the outside, but as soon as Ben and I heard its welcoming chorus of tinny carousel music, we knew pure spun magic awaited us inside.

Ben raced into Funland ahead of me and flashed me his trademark crooked grin. He held a string of tickets so long it curled to the cement floor.

“Julia, here are five tickets for the carousel,” Ben said as he snapped off five paper tokens.

“You won’t come with me?”

“Nah, the carousel is for little kids. You have fun though,” Ben answered and began to make his way over to the bumper cars. Ben was nine, and I wasn’t yet old or tall enough to reach the marker needed for admittance to the big-kid cool rides.

I watched Ben disappear behind the skee-ball booth and reluctantly climbed onto my favorite brown pony with the white star saddle. I stood up in the stirrups and peered over the crowded heads for Ben. When I couldn’t spot him, I could feel the sting of tears begin to start.

As the panic grew inside me, there was my brother, a streak of jet-black hair and his favorite red shirt flashing through the crowd. Right before the ticket taker closed the gate, Ben leapt onto the carousel platform.

“No crying, kid. I’ll be on the carousel bench where the grown-ups sit,” Ben said. “Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall off. You’ll be fine.”

“You promise?”

“You’ve got to stop being a scared baby all the time.”

“I’m not a baby. And I’m not scared when you’re around.”

Ben leaned toward me and brushed away a tear that had started to slip down my cheek. “I promise I won’t ever let anything bad happen to you. Not ever.”

“Swear to God?” I asked.

“Cross my heart and hope to die. Now stop crying already. We’re supposed to be having fun for once, remember?”

The music of the carousel started, and I eased my steel grip around the pony’s neck. I looked out at the crowd as it began to slowly spin around me. The tourists waved madly as their children passed and a line of kids began to snake back toward the spin paint booth for the next ride. As the carousel turned faster, I spotted a blur of a man who popped up from behind the ticket booth. He wore a black baseball cap and pointed his Polaroid camera in my direction. A flash of light blinded me for a second. When the ride circled the crowd again, the man with the Polaroid camera was gone.

I thought of telling Ben about the man with the camera on our walk home from Funland and later, before we went to sleep that night. But I didn’t want Ben to think I was a scared baby. My decision would later haunt my every day, leaving me to desperately wonder whether, if I had told Ben about the stranger, it could have saved him.

“911, what is the nature of your call?”

“My brother. He’s gone! Someone took him. Please, you’ve got to come here quick!”

“What is your brother’s name?” the female 911 dispatcher asked.

“Ben. Ben Gooden. Please hurry!”

“Okay. It’s going to be all right. What’s your name?”

“Julia. Julia Gooden. I live on 18 Snug Harbor Road.”

“Is your mother or father there? Can you put them on the phone?”

“My dad’s not here, and my mom won’t get up.”

“Is your mother hurt?”

“No. She’s just drunk.”

“Okay, Julia. Is there anyone else at home with you?”

“My sister, Sarah. She’s fourteen. She doesn’t believe me. Sarah said I was an idiot baby and told me to get out of her room.”

“Did you check the house for your brother?” the dispatcher asked.

“I looked all over. I swear. Ben was in his bed when I fell asleep. I woke up in my mom’s room. I don’t know how I got there. When I went back to our room, Ben was gone. Please, you need to help me!”

“Does it look like someone broke in?”

“The courtyard door to our bedroom is open. I wanted to make sure it was locked before we went to sleep, but I didn’t want Ben to think I was scared.”

“Okay. We’re sending an officer over right now. Do you think your brother wandered outside?”

“No. I looked in the courtyard and the driveway too. Ben wasn’t there. I found his baseball on the sidewalk. It’s his favorite New York Yankees ball. Ben sleeps with it every night. He’d never leave it behind.”

“Okay. You stay on the phone with me, Julia, until the officer gets there. I’m sure everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see.”

“You’re right. Ben would never leave me. He promised.”

Chapter 1

I became a reporter because I never found out the ending to my own story. Thirty years after Ben’s abduction, the only answers I could find were for others, the victims, or those they left behind. The crime beat is a natural for me. The people I write about are the most fragile, the most broken, and they need the most answers. I piece together the frayed strands of their lives. I have to tell their stories. I feel like I owe the victims at least that.

Five p.m. in the newsroom, and I am in the zone. I stare at my half-written follow-up story on the Boyner boy until a blast of static crackles from the scanner above my desk. “Shots fired on the two-hundred block of Rosa Parks Boulevard,” the female 911 dispatcher calls out in a staccato monotone.

I turn back to my story and listen with trained detachment to hear whether there’s anything more I need to chase on deadline. More likely, it’s a drug deal gone bad or a gang-related drive-by. Just another rush hour in inner-city Detroit.

The scanner goes silent for thirty seconds. Nothing further. No follow-up required, for now anyway. I go back to my article on Donny Boyner when my e-mail chimes and the new message alert flashes across the right side of my computer screen. It’s from Bob Primo, the metro desk editor. Primo has been my middleman boss for the past ten years, and he’s been consistent, a certified Grade-A solid prick throughout. Primo thinks I owe him for successfully pitching my story for the front page during the big bosses’ three o’clock editorial meeting. But it wasn’t Primo’s pitch. It was the story that sold it, an eight-year-old boy who disappeared on the way to the bus stop. With no new news on day two of the story, it’s my job to make the little boy real to the readers. And Primo and his bosses know I will deliver.

I ignore Primo’s interruption and glance down at my reporter’s notebook. It’s filled with quotes I got two hours prior while sitting in the living room of the tidy row house Donny Boyner shared with his grandma, Laveeta, a seventy-year-old whisper of a woman who stared intently at the velvet picture of a black Jesus that hugged the entirety of her living room wall as she recounted stories about her grandson. When I asked about the last time she saw Donny, Laveeta tore her gaze away from Jesus and cast her eyes downward to the scuffed gold vinyl floor. Ever since he started kindergarten, Laveeta said she walked Donny to the bus stop, just one block away. But yesterday she caught a cold—more than a cold, she said, a flu bug that made her body sweat and burn through the night. By morning, she was worse. Donny wanted to stay home so he could take care of his grandma, but Laveeta insisted he couldn’t miss school. His grandma knew school was Donny’s only ticket out of the projects. So Donny grabbed his backpack, promised Laveeta he’d take care of her when he got home, and kissed her on the forehead before he headed out on his journey: one short block alone to the bus that would safely deliver him to his third-grade class at Gardner Elementary School.

Just one short block.

I throw my reporter’s notebook into the top right drawer of my desk and write from memory. The city editor at my first paper told me the best reporters write from both the head and the heart.

I stare at the third-grade class picture of Donny on his missing-persons flyer. I pinned it to my desk when the Amber Alert first went out after Donny didn’t get off the bus at the end of the school day. In the photo, Donny wears a short-sleeved blue and white striped shirt buttoned all the way up to his collar. He peers hesitantly through his thick glasses at the camera as though he is uncomfortable being the center of attention even on school picture day. My eyes flick to the other photo on my desk. It’s a framed picture of my sons, Logan and Will, taken down by the lake last summer. Logan is eight, just like Donny.

I turn my concentration back on the article about the missing boy, but I already know how this story will ultimately end. There will be bad news, the kind that decimates the living. Or no news at all. Not ever. Good news in child abduction cases is a bona fide miracle. And I stopped believing in miracles when Ben never came home. Miracles are like Santa Claus, just stuff kids believe.

My desk phone rings. I stare at it, debating whether to pick it up on deadline or to retrieve the message after I finish the story. Five o’clock. It’s not my husband. David and I have been separated going on six months now. In the early days of our relationship, my once golden boy thought he could save me from the demons of my past. But after nearly ten years of trying to help me recover from the loss of my brother and forgive myself for not being able to remember anything from the night of Ben’s disappearance that could have helped the police, David walked. He packed up his suitcase one Friday after getting home from his law firm and dropped the bombshell that he was leaving. David’s tone was cold and cutting as he told me he was tired of trying to fix me, tired of never being able to make me completely happy, and he couldn’t live with my constant fears over our boys’ safety anymore. I tried to explain that no matter what I did, I couldn’t make myself into the person David wanted me to be. I watched as David’s car pulled out of our driveway and couldn’t believe he had given up on me. And our family. But I didn’t throw the blame on him entirely. No one can cut in when you’re doing a slow waltz with the devil.

I stare back at the ringing phone and realize David would never call on deadline unless it’s an emergency about our boys. And he would try to reach me on my cell phone first. That leaves a crackpot pitching me a story about how her husband isn’t paying alimony. Or it could be the cops.

I take my chances and pick up the phone.

“Newsroom. This is Julia Gooden,” I answer.

“Hey, it’s Detective Ray Navarro. This didn’t come from me, but you better get down here. A tagger found a body inside a burned-out building on the three-hundred block of Mount Elliott Street. It’s a kid and the body matches Donny Boyner’s description.”

I breathe out and stare back at the picture of the shy little boy with the wire-framed glasses in the missing person’s photo.

“Julia, you there?” Navarro asks.

“Did you call Laveeta Boyner yet?”

“Yeah. The coroner just got here, and then we’ll take the body down to the morgue to be identified. We’re keeping this off the scanner for now. So unless another member of the media is tipped off, you’ll be the only reporter at the scene.”

“I appreciate the tip. I’ll be there. I just need to take care of something first.”

I hang up my desk phone and recall my meeting last week with the man in the tweed jacket. Post-traumatic stress with borderline paranoid personality disorder. That was my diagnosis. I finally relented after years of resistance to David’s urging and saw a psychiatrist to talk about my brother. I was becoming obsessed with protecting our sons. No Little League for Logan, despite his pleas, since sleazy strangers with nefarious intentions could be watching. No play dates or friends unless I had a sit-down with the parents first, which was more like twenty pointed questions on my end and usually scared them off. There were no babysitters, not even David’s father and stepmom, and subsequently no date nights after the children came.

The topper was when Logan won a lunch with his principal, Mr. Brandish, during a charity auction at his elementary school to raise money for the PTA. Logan was supposed to ride to the restaurant in Mr. Brandish’s car, but I pitched a fit to David, who told me to lighten up for just one time in my entire life and not spoil Logan’s afternoon. I pretended to acquiesce, but I secretly went to the school, followed the principal’s car to the restaurant, and sat in the back of the pizza place trying to blend in with the lunch crowd as I kept my eyes glued on my son. But Logan saw me, which he inadvertently shared with the family during dinner that night. David blew up.

The counseling was part of the agreement if we were going to reconcile, so I tried. I stared at the psychiatrist’s advanced degrees, which were hung prominently on his wall, as he told me I became a crime reporter so I could repeat my childhood trauma every day. It was my way of punishing myself, he said. After one session, I decided to never go back. I could handle it on my own. I always have. And I know what I have to do now.

I close out of my story, wind my unruly, dark curls into a makeshift bun, and walk across the newsroom to Primo’s office. I pass the thinned-out bank of metro reporters and the ghost town where the recently laid-off feature writers once sat. Primo’s office is command central, smack in the center of the newsroom, where he can keep an eye on his dwindling empire. I pause in the doorway. Primo sits ramrod straight in his leather swivel chair, giving hell to someone on the other end of the phone while staring out at rush-hour traffic weaving through my broken-down city.

Primo reminds me of a just-fed spider, spindly arms and legs with a rigid bowling ball of a gut. I tap on the doorframe to get his attention. When Primo doesn’t turn around, I enter and smack my knuckles hard against the top of his computer.

Primo jerks his chair toward the unwanted interruption. I’ve apparently made the cut, and Primo abruptly ends his call.

“Did you turn in the story about the Boyner kid?” he asks without turning around.

“Not yet. I need to talk to you about something.”

Primo ignores my request and hunches over his computer. The spider, hungrily trying to snare its next victim, or in this case, its next story.

“Where the hell is it? I’m about to go into the five o’clock editorial meeting. Don’t think I won’t bury your story inside the local page. I can’t guarantee it will even make it on the website if you just recycled the news from yesterday about the kid’s abduction.”

Primo is just being a bully. He knows this is a front-page story. In fact, it’s the story of the day.

“Of course you’ll post it. The story got picked up on the national wire. People care about this little boy,” I say, calling his bluff.

Primo parts his lips as if he’s about to unleash a snarling tirade. Instead, two strings of thick white spit pool in the corners of his mouth. Primo’s endless supply of spit always seems to accumulate in mass quantity right around deadline.

I look away in disgust and so does Primo. He grabs his phone and turns his back to me as though I am dismissed.

But I still have a card to play.

“The cops found a body. They think it’s Donny Boyner.”

Primo swivels his chair toward me with renewed interest and drums his long fingers together as he weighs his options. “When are they going to have an ID? You need to work your sources to get them to confirm it’s the Boyner kid. We need to have the story before The Detroit News gets it. I will not get beat on this. Understood?”

Primo had long ago crossed the line from ethical journalist with a sense of duty to a full-blown viper.

“I don’t know why I expected a humane response,” I answer.

“If you care so much, become a social worker. Your job right now is to get the story. You can feel all you want when you’re done.”

“That’s why I’m here. I’m leaving.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m taking a leave of absence. I need some time.”

Primo’s rubbery lips contort into a patronizing sneer, and a dribble of built-up spit escapes from one corner of his mouth.

“You don’t get time. This is a newspaper. The news doesn’t stop, remember? Journalism 101.”

“I’ll write the story on Donny Boyner, but then I’m gone. I’ll contact HR. If you have a job for me when I’m ready to come back, fine. If not, I’ll reach out to the Detroit News. Either way, it works for me.”

“Get an ID on the Boyner kid and get your ass back here. You’re a veteran, ten years in at the paper. Don’t tell me you’re getting soft. The death of another kid in the projects is going to make you give everything up? He’s just a throwaway kid who would’ve wound up selling drugs on the corner in four years anyway. Things are tight right now. We’ve already shed a hundred jobs, thirty in the newsroom in the past six months alone. You’re lucky to still be on the payroll.”

I hold Primo’s gaze until his hard, dark eyes dart away first. The spider then buries himself back into his beloved computer, where he begins to troll for new stories.

“That’s why I need to get out. I don’t want to wind up like you.”

I launch the insult like a grenade and hustle out of Primo’s office before I can give him the satisfaction of being a captive audience to his caustic comeback.

I thread my way back to my corner of the newsroom and ignore the barbs from the guys at the sports desk ribbing me about my New York Yankees’ loss to the Detroit Tigers in last night’s blowout game. I instead concentrate on Laveeta Boyner and the guilt that will undoubtedly squeeze the life out of what is left of her once she IDs her grandson.

But at least she will know.

At least Laveeta Boyner will have an answer.

I grab my reporter’s notebook and tape recorder before I head out to the crime scene. I gather my scant personal effects off my desk. Easier to do it now without explanation than after deadline when someone might notice and ask questions. I hate questions unless I’m the one asking. I stuff the photo of Logan and Will in my duffel bag, reach into my bottom desk drawer, and carefully retrieve an overstuffed red binder.

I make my way through the parking garage, adrenaline flowing, as I chisel down the list of questions I will pose to the police about Donny Boyner. As I slide my key into the ignition, I calculate the fastest route through rush-hour traffic to Mount Elliott Street. Only a mile away, the usual five-minute drive will now take me half an hour in gridlock traffic. There’s still time though. There’s always time.

I unzip the duffel bag on the passenger seat and gently pull out the red binder, now cracked and faded with age to a muted shade of pink. I open the cover and run my hand over the first yellowed article, safely protected through time by a thin sheet of plastic that holds the newspaper story firmly affixed to the first page. I know it by heart.

Sept. 6, 1977

Nine-year-old boy disappears in resort town

By Karen Quantico

DETROIT (Associated Press)— A nine-year-old boy remains missing one day after he disappeared from his bedroom in the usually quiet resort town of Sparrow, Michigan.

Ben Gooden, who was to join the rest of his incoming fourth-grade class at Willow Glen Elementary today, was reported missing by his seven-year-old sister, Julia Gooden, who called 911 at approximately 12:30 a.m.

Police would not comment on whether the mother, Marjorie Gooden, is a suspect or will face child endangerment charges, although sources close to the case claim witnesses saw Mrs. Gooden drinking heavily with an unidentified man at a local bar around the time the boy disappeared. Police are trying to locate the missing child’s father, Benjamin Gooden Sr., who was reportedly out of town at the time of the boy’s disappearance.

“Right now, we’re looking at this as a missing persons case, not a criminal investigation. Let me reiterate that Sparrow is a safe town for our visitors and locals alike,” said Deputy Michael Leidy of the St. Clair Sheriff’s Department. “However, when a little boy suddenly goes missing from his bed in the middle of the night, we want to assure the public that the police will do everything in our power to bring him home safely.”

Police confirmed there was no sign of forced entry, but the sliding glass door leading from the outside courtyard into the boy’s room was found wide open. Police also found a crushed package of Marlboro Lights cigarettes outside the home in addition to an Indian arrowhead discovered under the boy’s bed.

A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said the Gooden family had just moved to the North Shores neighborhood.

Principal John Derry of Willow Glen Elementary School said the students and staff started the day with a moment of silence for Ben’s safe return.

(Photo caption: Julia Gooden, the missing boy’s younger sister, sits alone on the front steps of the family home and clutches her brother’s baseball against her chest.)

Detective Navarro is true to his word. The early-evening sky is free of any TV news choppers circling overhead, and the Mount Elliott block where the body was found is void of any other media buzzing around like vultures, ready to pick apart any crumb of new news they can find.

I drape my press pass around my neck and head toward the charred shell that was once a building on Mount Elliott Street. I dodge under the yellow tape and make my way up three cement stairs a tagger spray-painted in blue and orange letters, Thunder13. The officer who is supposed to be playing babysitter to the street must be in the back of the house securing the scene, so I continue on inside. If no one is there to tell you no, they might as well be saying yes. As my eyes adjust inside the dark hallway, the smell hits me, and I instinctively begin to breathe through my mouth. It’s not the stench of urine and feces left behind from a rotation of homeless squatters who most likely called this place home. It’s the smell of death.

I make my way through what was once most likely a living room and toward a sliver of light shining under a doorway.

“Hey, what’s she doing here? No press. Get back outside!”

I’ve been made. I turn on my heels to see if I know the officer who spotted me so I can try and talk my way into staying. The door with the light underneath it bangs open and the dark hallway is flooded with blinding white light. I shield the tops of my eyes to try and make out the details of what I assume is the crime scene. Portable high-powered lights are set up in the four corners of the cramped space, which was probably once used as a bedroom. I know I have seconds before I am physically escorted out, so I do a quick scan of the contents of the room. Filthy mattresses stained with plumes of yellow and brown are stacked up against one wall, and the floor of the room is littered with cardboard and discarded fast-food containers. Directly across from me is the room’s sole window, affixed with a set of rusted safety bars. Underneath the window, Navarro huddles on the floor near a slight, crumpled shape someone tried to conceal with a frayed rug. I take two steps closer and see a brand-new set of gleaming blue and yellow sneakers poking out from beneath the rug. The adrenaline of getting the story instantly leaves my body, and I freeze in place. The shoes are small. Little boy’s shoes. The shoes Laveeta Boyner said she bought Donny as a reward for bringing up his math grade from a C to a B.

A meaty hand wraps around my upper arm and yanks me backward. “I told you, no reporters. What do you think you are doing in here?”

I look up to see Detective Leroy Russell, Navarro’s partner and a thoroughbred jackass. His Mr. Clean bald head shines like a lit globe against the backdrop of the heavy lights. Russell is pushing fifty, but is built like an aging linebacker who still has a few good bone-crushing games left in him. Since I’m five-foot-seven and a hundred and fifteen pounds with my shoes on, Russell easily spins my body away from the room and pushes me toward the front door. I don’t try and argue my way into staying. I know technically I shouldn’t be there, at least as far as the cops are concerned. But more than that, I don’t want to see the body of the little boy once the rug has been pulled back. I tried to train myself long ago to emotionally detach from the people I wrote about. I can get lost in the juice of the moment as I chase the story, but once it’s written, once I’m alone, their stories, their faces always come back to me. They never let go. Especially when the victim is a child.

I drop on the broken front step of the house and wait for Navarro as a steady stream of neighborhood gangbangers drives by, idling curiously until they catch sight of police officers filtering in and out of the crime scene.

“I thought you would put up more of a fight.”

Navarro stands in the doorway, his tall and muscular frame almost filling it up. Navarro is hardcore Jersey, even though it’s been at least fifteen years since he moved from his hometown of Newark. Navarro runs his fingers through his thick shock of dark hair and gives me a nod.

“Didn’t feel much like fighting today. That’s Donny Boyner in there, right?” I ask.

“Pending ID from his grandma, yes. Come on. Let’s take a walk to your car.”

The police know Navarro is my best source, but he at least wants to appear discreet, so I wait to drill him for information until we have some privacy. He opens my driver-side door, and I slide across the front seat of my SUV. I roll down the window and Navarro leans inside. “What can you tell me?” I ask.

“Off the record or on?”

“Both. Let’s start with off for background, and then we’ll take it from there. What do you think happened?”

“We found the kid’s backpack tossed in a Dumpster two blocks from here. We think whoever took Donny lured him into a car on the way to school. Probably someone he knew. There were no defense wounds or bruising, which means he didn’t try to get away. Whoever did this most likely killed him somewhere else and then dumped the body. Pending an autopsy, it looks like he drowned.”


“Yeah, I know, that’s a new one. We’re checking every public swimming pool in the city to see if anyone saw Donny, but more likely, he was probably killed in someone’s home.”

Navarro’s gaze moves down to the steering wheel, which I suddenly realize I am holding in a death grip. Embarrassed I’ve lost my poker face, I quickly drop my hands in my lap. When my hands start to tremble, I shove them under my legs so Navarro won’t notice. But my attempt at a last-minute save is too late.

“You all right?” Navarro asks, his rough voice softening to a raspy hum. “Anytime the victim is a kid, it’s hard, even on us.”

“I’m fine,” I answer and try to redirect his attention elsewhere. “You’re not going to see me around for a while. I’m taking some time off. I’m going to the lake house for the summer with the boys.”

“Your place in Decremer?”

“Yes. There’s a story I need to work on too.”

“Like a freelance assignment?”

“Something like that.”

“If you get in a jam, let me know. Just because you’re not officially on the beat doesn’t mean you can’t call me if you need some help,” Navarro says.

Navarro’s deep-set hazel eyes fixate on my face for a beat too long. “Why don’t you call me after you file your story? I’ll be here for a while, but maybe we could meet up later and grab something to eat. I remember you used to like that hole-in-the-wall diner that was open all night over in Greektown.”

“You’ve got a good memory. I forgot about that place,” I answer. “Thanks, but I need to get back home to the kids when I’m done.”

“Just a friendly offer.”

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