Zachary’s phone rang as he breakfasted with Kenzie. He knew better than to answer it at dinnertime unless it was an emergency, but he didn’t usually have to worry about it ringing during breakfast, so he wasn’t sure how to handle it. He glanced at Kenzie, who raised her brows questioningly. Zachary decided he’d better at least check to see who it was. It could be Heather, his older sister, calling to let him know that there was a client he needed to deal with urgently. Or it could be Lorne Peterson, his old foster father and long-time friend, who wanted to reach him while Kenzie was still home to invite them over for dinner or let them know something that was going on. It would be rare for a client or anyone else to call him first thing in the morning.
The caller ID was Jocelyn Goldman, his oldest sister.
Zachary’s stomach plummeted. He couldn’t think of any reason Joss would call him so early. The fact was that she never called him at all. He occasionally called her to see how she was doing, ask after Luke, or let her know that he would be in the area and was hoping to stop in for a visit. But Joss kept herself separated from everyone else, not getting close emotionally.
He swiped to answer and held the phone to his ear.
“There’s been some trouble,” Joss said, bypassing any greeting or small talk.
Zachary swallowed. Had Joss gotten herself into trouble? Or had Luke? Was it something to do with Madison, Luke’s former girlfriend, who Zachary had rescued from human traffickers? Or with Rhys, Zachary’s young Black friend who was romantically interested in Luke? Zachary had been doing his best to keep them apart, but Rhys was a teenager and wasn’t about to be told what to do.
As far as he knew, Joss hadn’t had any contact with her old life and had been staying away from drugs. Still, he had thought the same of Tyrrell, his younger brother, before he had given in to his addiction a few months earlier. Was she the one who was in trouble?
Or was it something completely different? Since Joss kept to herself so much, there could be a hundred things going on that Zachary had no idea of.
He licked dry lips. “What’s wrong?”
Across the table from him, Kenzie had put down her toast and was leaning forward, dark eyes worried, echoing his concern.
“Luke has been arrested.”
Zachary swore under his breath. What had the boy done now? He knew that Joss had been worried about him lately, concerned that he could be tempted back into his old life. It was difficult to leave behind a life of addiction and almost impossible to leave a crime syndicate like the one that Luke had been involved in. Despite the abuses he had suffered at the hands of his bosses in the human trafficking ring, it was easier to be told what to do than to have to make his own decisions. It was easier to be supplied with all of the drugs and money he needed as long as he lured in new teens and brought in more business. The approval of his superiors was almost as strong a drug as the substances he had been addicted to. With long experience in the life herself, Joss had tried to explain to Zachary what a battle it would be to keep Luke not only clean and sober, but away from sex trafficking and the cycle of abuse that he had become accustomed to.
That was beside the fact that Luke had been making the organization a lot of money and they would do whatever they could to get him back if they knew where he was living now.
“What for? Drugs? Or…?”
“I wish that was all it was,” Joss said with a sharp laugh. “If it was only that simple.”
How could it be worse than that?
“It’s murder,” Joss told him baldly. “He’s been charged with murder.”
Murder?” Zachary repeated, his stomach tying itself into even tighter knots.
Kenzie’s eyes widened. For an assistant in the medical examiner’s office, murder was part of her everyday life. It was what had brought them together initially, as Zachary had been investigating the death of Declan Bond. But the deaths that she was involved with were not usually anything to do with anyone they knew.
There was a deep sigh from Joss. “Yeah, murder. You know that’s what I said.” Her tone was irritated. She had probably been up all night. And undoubtedly, she didn’t really want to have to deal with it all. Zachary was encouraged by the fact that she had called him, but wasn’t sure what she needed from him. Just a listening ear? Did she want him to call someone? Suggest a lawyer?
“Do you know what happened?”
“Apparently, he killed a pimp. Someone he knew while he was in the business. Not like they’ll give me any details. I’m not even legally his guardian. But they had to call someone, and better me than child services, since they know nothing about him.” Joss let out another sigh. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about this.”
“What did Luke say about it? Did he explain what happened?”
“He’s not saying anything. Which is probably best because they’ll just use anything he says to convict him.”
“And he didn’t tell you anything either?”
“I haven’t talked to him. They haven’t finished processing him yet, so he can’t see anyone.”
“He’s allowed a phone call. He didn’t want to talk to you? Did he call a lawyer? Public defender?”
“No. He didn’t make a call. The cop who talked to me said that he hasn’t had anything to say. Hasn’t defended himself. Didn’t want a lawyer. You know what’s happened. Obviously, this pimp had contact with this Luke in the past or was trying to pick him up.”
“He’ll probably get a lawyer in time. It’s only the first day. Once he’s had a chance to think about things, to talk to you and figure out what he’s going to do…”
“Can you look into it?”
“What do you want me to do? Talk to the police? They won’t tell me any more than they told you. They probably won’t talk to me at all.”
“No. I want you to find out what happened. Just ask around. Get the scoop from any witnesses.”
Zachary tapped his finger against the table, thinking about it. “Sure… I’ll do what I can to help. But the police won’t want me talking to witnesses right now. They need to do their investigation first. And once Luke has been processed, he’ll probably let you know what happened. He’s just being careful right now. He knows how this works.”
“They’re going to railroad him!” Jocelyn snapped. “A kid like Luke isn’t going to get any sympathy. They’ll say he’s in the business. He killed his pimp. He got into an argument over payment. Luke has got a record; they know exactly what kind of a life he was leading up until you brought him to live with me.”
It wouldn’t look good for Luke. Zachary knew that sex workers went to prison for much less. But he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around what had happened.
“Was Luke back in the business? I know you were worried about him. What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know. I’m not his mom or his babysitter. I don’t always know where he is. I do my best to keep him out of trouble, but he’s old enough to make his own decisions. I can’t physically keep him from doing anything he sets his mind to. And he knows his way around. He doesn’t need me to take him anywhere.”
“I know that. I’m not saying that you should have kept him home or that you did anything wrong. You’ve been doing a great job with Luke. I can’t think of anyone who could have done a better job with him. But you were worried that he might be tempted to get back into the life. The pull of the drugs and the money and positive strokes from the people he used to work for. Or a new boss.”
“He’s been out some nights. Not all the time, and not usually overnight. Just for a few hours. There’s not much by way of entertainment around here. Popcorn and Netflix isn’t exactly exciting for a kid who has been used to partying and the nightlife.”
“So, he’s drinking? Drugging?”
“I don’t know. He says not, but…” Even though they were on the phone, Zachary could see her expressive shrug in his mind’s eye. “Of course that’s what he’s going to say. Any addict who falls off the wagon is going to deny it to start with.”
As Zachary had discovered with Tyrrell. Tyrrell had assured Zachary and Kenzie that he hadn’t started drinking again. Until he’d disappeared on a drunken binge and Zachary had to track him down. He couldn’t exactly deny it anymore at that point.
“But you must have seen the signs. If he was using again.”
“He seemed fine to me. But if he stayed away for long enough to hide the signs… and those nights that he did stay out overnight…”
“Well… I’ll find out what I can, but I don’t know how much that will be. Do you think he’ll talk to me? Once he’s been processed?”
“No. Probably not. Kids are taught not to talk if they get scooped up. If you just keep your mouth shut, the cartel will get you out. Maybe you serve some time, but as long as you don’t talk about anyone else… you can go back again when you are released.”
Zachary made a noise of acknowledgment. His brain was busy, trying to figure out how he could do anything to help Luke. If the police wouldn’t tell him anything, Luke wouldn’t tell him anything, and Luke didn’t even have a lawyer to defend him, how was Zachary supposed to get any information that might be helpful for Joss or Luke?
“I’ll try to get in to talk to him later today or tomorrow,” Joss said, lowering her voice a little, letting up on the anger that Zachary knew hadn’t been aimed at him. “I’ll find out what I can. I’ll try to get him to get a lawyer and tell him to talk to you.” She cleared her throat, but her voice still sounded tight as she went on. “You just had to bring him here, didn’t you? You just had to go and let me get attached to someone. I care about what happens to him. You may think I’m a tough chick who won’t let herself get hurt by anything…” That was certainly the image she tried to project. “But I do care about what happens to Luke.”
“Of course you do,” Zachary reassured her. “I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
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