by B.J. Smith
Kalmo Bettis woke up in mid-snore from a rare midafternoon nap. His first thought was about the dream he’d just lost, hot seconds away from either carnal relief or more frustration. He rolled off the sofa, grabbed his service pistol from the coffee table and held the Glock 22 behind his back. Peering between the curtains, he saw no sign of either visitor or prankster who might have rung the doorbell. The street was quiet.
He opened the door and relaxed, then cursed himself for letting the lilacs grow so out of control that he hadn’t seen the kid. Bettis knew from experience that little ones seldom attacked cops. More important, he recognized this one. He hid the pistol in his waistband and stepped outside. “What do you need, young man?”
Bettis towered over the boy, who took a few steps back, ready to run. “I’m sorry to bother you, Officer, but my mom said I should report it to you.”
“Report what to me?”
“Somebody stole my kite.”
Bettis smiled and looked up and down the street. “I see. What’s your name, son?”
“James, sir. James Wagner.”
“I’ve seen you around. You live down on the corner, right?
“And how old are you?”
“Seven today. I got the kite for my birthday.”
Bettis sat on the top step and gestured for the boy to join him. James took a spot at the far end, leaving a couple of feet between them. Bettis shook his head, studying the row of houses on the other side of Blakemore. “Now that’s a real shame,” he said. “Some criminal stole your birthday present? Did you call 911?”
“No sir. My mom said that’s just for emergencies, like if my dad comes around.”
Bettis looked at him and nodded. “Your mom told you right, James. You listened to her. That’s great.” He reached over and gave the boy’s shoulder a pat, taking note of a slight flinch. “Does your dad come around very often?”
James looked down at his feet and shook his head. “Not much.”
“You have any brothers or sisters, anyone else at home?”
“No, just me and my mom.”
“Does he call?”
James shook his head again and turned to Bettis. “On my birthday. That’s about it.”
“Did he call today?”
“Yeah. He told me happy birthday and asked if I liked the kite. He said he dropped it off in the night.”
Bettis nodded. “And did you tell him you like the kite? What did you say?”
“I didn’t see it. There wasn’t anything inside the front door like he said.”
Bettis stood and locked his eyes on the house on the corner. A siren sounded in the distance. It grew louder. “What did your dad say then?”
James stood and followed the cop’s gaze to his house. “He started swearing and said someone must have stolen it and he’d get me another one. He wanted to talk to my mom.”
“Did she talk to him?”
“For a minute, then she said he couldn’t come over and she hung up.”
“And then what happened?”
“She started crying,” James said. “I told her someone stole my present and he was going to bring me another one. Then she told me to come over here.”
Bettis reached back and touched the Glock, reassuring himself that it was close. “Where does your dad live?” he asked.
“Over on Clayborn,” James said.
“Does he have a car?” Bettis stepped to block the boy’s view of the house as James described a rusting pickup that squealed around the corner and stopped. Close behind came a police cruiser with lights flashing and siren blaring.
James lurched down the steps. Bettis was quicker. He grabbed the boy and pulled him close.
B.J. Smith writes fiction, essays and poetry in addition to technical prose. His various other identities include cyclist, hiker, University of Iowa journalism grad, veteran, and former daily newspaper reporter.