CHAPTER 1

 

 

 Ronnie Dixon rolled over and opened his eyes.  His back rubbed up against a crushed Natural Light can.  The little scratch on his back was nothing compared to the pain of the light attacking his eyes.  His head was pounding.

 

   He did not know how long he had been asleep.  It was bright out now.  He looked around and realized he was on the back porch of an abandoned house.  The porch was half built in.  The bottom was lined with busted bags of trash containing newspapers, cans, bottles, and half eaten food.  Ronnie thought that there was probably a rat or two under all of the garbage.  He also thought it did not make a bad mattress after several days on a meth binge.

 

   A sudden pain shot up his stomach.  He recognized that pain well as his old friend hunger.  Ronnie was down under one hundred and fifty pounds.  In his high school days, he was well over two hundred.  Ahhhh...the diet that truly works.... meth and starvation.

 

   He heard footsteps approached the porch and climbing the short stair case.  It was his wife Sandy.

    Sandy was carrying a couple of small bags.  She was a pretty little girl despite the onslaught of drugs over the last few years.  She had red hair and freckles.  The meth had yet to attack her teeth and although she was a rail like her husband, her face had not sunk in yet like most tweakers.

 

     "Are you finally awake sleepy head?"  She grinned.

  "Look at these shorts I found you in the dumpster by the body shop." Ronnie groaned, "Damn, I was hoping you had some food."

 

    She smiled and pulled out a biscuit.  "I do.  A sausage biscuit from McDonald's." Ronnie's hopes were crushed again.

 

  "You know what I meant."  Ronnie meant food as short for dogfood which was slang for heroin.

     A smile broke across Sandy's face and she said, "You know I take care of my hubby. “ she pulled out a little baggy of heroin. 

 

     Ronnie did not care where it came from.  Although he had a good idea where she got the money.  They had been married ten years, but he was more in love with his latest mistresses.... Ms. Heroin and Ms. Meth than he was Sandy.  His wife was a good-looking lady and it was easier for her to go out and bring the drugs back to him than it was for him to work.  He gave up working when he got used to sleeping under the stars or in abandoned houses.

 

     Ronnie went straight for the food.... he left the biscuit in the wrapper and went for the food.... dogfood.... heroin.  He greedily stuffed a needle full of it in his arm like a man in the desert attacking an oasis.

 

   The drug quenched his thirst for heroin.... but it was not exactly heroin...it was white fentanyl. They called it all food or dogfood....just like they preferred ice over meth....ice was a more crystallized form of meth.  They often referred to ice or meth as cream.

 

    Fentanyl was more powerful than heroin.  Fentanyl ruined heroin for Ronnie because once he got used to fentanyl than regular heroin just was not good enough.

 

   It was Spring time in Huntington in a few different ways.  It was early May and the high 80-degree temperatures teamed with the showers that hammered the area in April to set the city into bloom.  The leaves and trees were a healthy green.  Flowers were blooming everywhere.  College kids were already sporting healthy tans.

 

    Spring was a time of rebirth.  Huntington had nearly collapsed under the weight of the drug epidemic in recent years.... but rebirth was striking Huntington in the form of Recovery.  Many of the biggest drug users of four and five years ago were reborn as drug-free disciples of Recovery.  They were spreading the word of clean living and saving lives.  Recovery was being spurred in the form of grants and donations.

 

     Recovery was alive and well in Huntington.  In the beginning days of the epidemic Huntington had 8 detox beds.  Drug users were literally dying waiting on a bed for treatment.  If a user could be convinced to sign themselves in for treatment, they need to be admitted before they change their minds.  Too often in the past, a drug user decided to get treatment only to put on a waiting list for two or three weeks...some users were dead before they got a bed.

 

   Ronnie jumped down the stairs.  Sandy was out in the yard talking to three guys.  Ronnie was not surprised to see that one was Bradley Mills.  In fact, there was not much doubt in Ronnie's mind that Bradley was with Sandy all day.  It did not bother him much at all, Bradley was in love with Sandy and was pretty much Sandy and Ronnie's slave.  Bradley Mills was immediately drawn to Sandy Dixon from the first time he shared a needle of heroin with her.  In fact, it could be said that he was addicted to both.  His addiction to meth made it a deadly threesome of addiction.

 

    The three (Sandy, ice, and heroin) had almost killed him three times this week.  The EMS and Cabell Huntington Health Department should be thanked for him still walking the Earth. It was Sandy Dixon....the woman who helped stick the needle in his arm was also the one who jabbed the Narcan in his thigh that allowed him to breathe again.

 

     Bradley had been in and out of trouble for most of his twenty-seven years.  He had only been out of prison four months after serving two years for breaking and entering.  He was on Xanax and was breaking into vehicles and houses. 

 

     The day Bradley walked out of prison, he was buff.  His arms were bulging from two years of lifting weights and eating three meals a day.  After four months of tweaking, shooting up dogfood, and eating one meal a day, Bradley looked more like the before picture of a bodybuilding supplement ad.  Bradley was more like the man who got sand kicked in his face at the beach in the old Atlas ads than the beach bully he resembled just months before.

 

    Bradley was very friendly with his boyish grin and pleasing personality.  He was raised by good parents.  His father Charlie Mills was bringing recovery to Huntington.

   Sandy Dixon loved the pleasing side of Bradley.  Bradley worshipped her and would do whatever it took to please her.... even if he had to commit a felony.

 

    Ronnie recognized a tall skinny boy with long dirty blond hair and about eight teeth as Chad.  The short skinny bald boy with him was Jimmy.  Ronnie did not know much about these boys and did not care to.  They were tweakers.  They served an occasional role in purchasing dope or a supporting role in a scheme to get dope money but outside of the obtaining dope, Ronnie had very little interest in them.

 

    There were dozens of abandoned houses in Huntington.  Many of them were becoming ecosystems for the homeless addicts of Huntington.  The houses were communities.  There were leaders like any community.  This abandoned house called The Bando by its' residents had two main leaders - Ronnie and Sandy Dixon.  Although Bradley did not live there, he was a worker bee.  He helped bring in the dope that kept the queen bee happy.  Jimmy and Chad were drifters.  They were backpackers who moved from abandoned house to abandoned house.  They were in search of drugs. Drifters like Jimmy and Chad also stole items from cars or houses or would dumpster dive and come up with gems like lightly used tennis shoes.  Like trappers from the Old West they would travel around bartering their finds.  Hoping their prizes would turn into the ultimate prize - a shot of dope.   

 

     As Ronnie got closer, Sandy said to him, "Chad was just saying that people are staying at The Flats.  They are stripping copper and taking furniture out and selling it."

     Chad agreed, "I took a couple of mini refrigerators out of there and traded them to V and one to T for a gram each.  Each one of those rooms has microwaves, refrigerators, and air conditioners.  It's a gold mine.  It's like finding King Tut's tomb!"

 

     The Flats on Fourth was once The Uptowner Inn and then Holiday Inn.  It was once an honorable location for decades.  It became housing for Marshall University students.  A fire had forced the place to close the year before.  Now, it was in the process of becoming Huntington's largest abandoned house.

 

     Ronnie tilted his head to the left as if he were thinking and said, "Sounds like we are going to have to pay this Flats place a visit.... or two."

 

  Sandy chipped in; "We should get a fridge for the Bando".

   Ronnie shook his head, "Jesus, Sandy....there isn't any electricity at the Bando."

 

     "Oh yeah, I forgot," Sandy said laughing at herself.  Ronnie noticed Bradley staring at Sandy the way a dog stares at a steak.  Sandy noticed Ronnie watching Bradley watching her and started a new conversation, "So, Babe, how was that food?"

 

     Ronnie was starting to feel pretty good and was quite impressed with the dogfood he injected into his veins but did not want his wife to be too proud of herself, so he made a so-so face and commented, "It's okay, I guess.  Nothing special but it got me off of the porch."

 

     His wife shot him a knowing look and smiled.  After so many years, she knew her husband too well.  She laughed, "If it wasn't all that, your lazy ass would be back there snoozing on the porch.  Try again, you can't fool wifey.”

 

     Bradley was feeling a little skittish.  He had sex with Sandy earlier and was feeling kind of guilty with her husband standing right in front of him.  He loved Sandy and although he was not quite sure that Ronnie still loved his wife, he was kind of jealous of Ronnie and was not sure how Ronnie felt about him.  He looked away to his left and then glanced at the four other people around him and said, "I think I'm going to run home and shower.  I'll come back over tonight, and we will check out this treasure chest for ourselves."

 

     Everyone bids him goodbye and crossed Four and a Half Alley and headed down Fourth Avenue.  His mind was a whirlwind of emotions.  The dope was unquestionably good and there was not any doubt he was high.  He had made love to the prettiest girl he had ever been with and he was flying from that as well.  He cut through The Flats' parking lot.  He walked past a blue Chevy Malibu.  It was broad daylight in the middle of the day but as he passed it, he reached out and grabbed the door.  It magically opened.  Even more surprising than the unlocked car at an abandoned hotel was that the keys sat glistening in the sun.  The open door and keys in the ignition were all the invitation the young boy tripping on heroin and love needed.  Not only did the young have free drugs and free sex today, but he also had a free ride.  He turned the keys and backed out onto Fourth Avenue.  It was certainly Bradley Mills lucky day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               CHAPTER 2

 

 

 

     Charlie Mills woke up late for an appointment with a client.  He very rarely overslept but he had a late night helping a homeless drug addict who had relapsed.  He did not get a lot of sleep that night but woke up confident he had saved a man's life has he got him safely admitted into River Park Hospital.   Charlie Mills was a very interesting man.  In a lot of ways, he was a walking contradiction.  He was working in Recovery.  Bringing Recovery to his hometown of Huntington was his goal.  What made Charlie more interesting is that his motives were different.  Many of the people trying to bring Recovery to Huntington were ex-addicts themselves.  They had gone through addiction and recovery and were now trying to spread their newfound wisdom to others.  They had found the way out of addiction for themselves and were seeking to show the way out to those still struggling with their demons.

 

     Charlie Mills had never done a drug in his life.  Charlie Mills would not even let aspirin enter his sacred temple.  Charlie had not just recently seen the light like many other of the recovery leaders in his city, he had lived in the light for all of his fifty-two years.

 

     Charlie was a rep who was travelling through Appalachia merchandising and selling items in Wal-Marts and other chains.  He done a million miles in twelve years on the road.  His bank account was at a livable level, but his family was slowly dying and he was gone so much he did not see it.  He realized OxyContin had his wife about ten years earlier.  She had been in a car wreck.  She had severe damage to her back.  Charlie did not think it was inappropriate all for his wife to begin taking painkillers.... after all.. she was in pain....is that not what painkillers are for?

      He finally realized that his wife, Amy, had a problem about the time he realized that his son Bradley and daughter Brooke were struggling with drugs as well.  About 2009, he started fighting against drugs his way.  He noticed Huntington had a dirty little secret that no one wanted to talk about.  Opiates were being sold in pill mills in Southern Ohio and in Eastern Kentucky.  This was not being done on dark street corners or in rundown drug-infested neighborhoods.  These opiates were being spread in clinics.  He began writing and getting his voice heard any way he could.

 

    His hope was to get the drugs off of the streets so his family would be clean.  A couple of years later, heroin dealers from Detroit claimed Huntington as a suburb of their city.  Dealers and heroin were everywhere replacing clinics and Oxycontin.  Charlie quit his job in 2012 and started working in Recovery.  He had been taking classes at Marshall University in Counseling and got a master’s degree.  He began working with addiction treatment at Prestera.  Finally, after a couple of years he started his own charity organization - Project Hopington.  The motto was "Project Hopington - bringing hope to Huntington".  He wanted to work with addicts and learn all he could about addiction to help his family.  It also kept him in Huntington where he could try to protect his family from drugs.  His daughter and kids each spent time in rehabs over the next few years but without any major success.  His wife was the most successful but her pain from the automobile accident always brought her back to the black-market dealers.

 

     He worked vigilantly on his website called The Recovery Man.  He offered help for those in addiction.  Charlie Mills was trying to save a whole city, but he could not manage to save his own family.

 

   Charlie knocked on the bathroom door.  No one answer.  He tried the handle and it was locked.  He knocked again.  No answer.  Instinctively, the six foot two, two hundred and forty pound counselor rammed the bathroom door.  The wooden door flew open revealing a slender girl with long dirty blond hair collapsed on the floor with her hair sprawled across the floor and a needle beside her.

 

     Quickly and calmly, he turned and jetted into his bedroom and grabbed a Narcan out of his drawer.  Just as quickly, he darted back and pulled her sweats down and stuck her thigh with the Narcan holding it in for five seconds.  He checked her pulse.  She was breathing.  If he anyone had seen him do this, they would swear he practiced this excessively.  Truth is he had done it several times, but it was not practice.  He did everything they teach you in classes except call 911.  He avoided calling 911 as much as possible.  An ambulance coming for an overdose to someone's house called The Recovery Man could prove quite embarrassing.

 

     Something snapped inside of him this time.  He was mad.  He yelled for Amy.  Amy came and shook her head.  "This is it", Charlie grimaced.  "This is the last time."

     Amy cradled her until she started to wake up.  She watched her husband run down the steps and she yelled, "Where are you going?"  He did not answer but she was pretty sure she knew.  She had watched him check Brooke's phone for the last number she called.

     

    Charlie Mills hated drug dealers.  When the epidemic first started Charlie was all for busting the drug dealers.  He thought if you get the supply off the street then problem solved.  But once he started working with users and once he watched his family suffer, he changed his thinking.  He thought most drug users have a dual diagnosis.  Many have an underlying psychological condition that moves them to self-medicate.  They may not understand it but disorders like depression or bi-polar may drive them to take drugs.

 

     He had watched his daughter hover near death for the last time.  

 

     Charlie jumped into his silver 2014 Chevrolet Equinox and headed toward 4th Street.  He pulled in front of a run down brick house.  He jumped up the three-step stairway and rapped loudly on the door.  A skinny black man in dreads and wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt answered the door.  Charlie knocked him out of his way and continued forward shouting, "Where's T? Where the hell is that murderer?"

 

  A taller black man with a shaved head emerged from the kitchen.  He was fairly muscular and wore a Bronco jersey.  " What the hell are you doing busting in my house like that?"

 

     Charlie was not calming down, he walked up to T and said, "I told you before about selling dope to my daughter.  You about killed her again."

     T smirked, "She knows the risks.  She's a big girl."

 

     Charlie was furious, "I'm tired of you smug bastards coming down from Detroit and getting rich killing our kids."

 

     T laughed, "You have a lot of balls, Old Man... busting into my house.  Take your holier than thou ass up out of here.  Damn Recovery Man," T laughed and shook his head. He continued, "You recovery guys are as bad as us.  Hell, you need the dealers.  You all are getting rich off of the addicts like us.  You recovery assholes need them as much as we do.  Yep, the druggies are making the dealers and rehabs rich.  Without drugs, you are unemployed."

 

     T's reaction stunned Charlie.  He fought back, " Don't kid yourself we are cleaning up this mess.  You are costing us a whole generation.  You are cold blooded murderers.  Even worse.... you dealers are whores.  Killing everyone for money."

 

    T laughed, "Who are the real whores? With your grant money and insurance money.  What will you do once you cure everyone?  You can't lose your jobs or rehabs.  What will you do? Bring in out of town addicts? You need to thank us.  You have job security.  You created a nice little industry of rehab."

 

     " You kill her, and I'll kill you", Charlie threatened.

 

     "Save her, Mr.  Recovery Man.  Play the hero.  You can't save anyone.  You can't even save your own girl.  You just take money for nothing.  You are all talk.  At least my customers get something for their money."

 

     Charlie's hands were shaking from the adrenalin rising and the anger of not being able to control the situation.  He said calmer but seriously.  "Do not sell drugs to my daughter again."

 

     T snarled and stuck his finger in Charlie's face, "What the hell are you going to do about it, Old Man?  Don't blame it on me because your daughter is a junkie."

 

     "I have had enough of you Detroit scum coming to my town and killing our kids.  I will go straight to the police next time.  This is your final warning."

 

     T lowered his voice and said sternly, "You ever threaten me again...I will kill you.  You got some nerve coming to my house and threatening me.  I will tell you one last time, Old Man....your daughter is not my problem.  And I don't care who you are Recovery Man....go tell the police.  Everyday little old ladies peek out their windows and fill up the drug tip line.  One more call...Really? You think you are somebody special because you have a Facebook page?  The cops don't give a damn that your daughter is a junkie.  They don't care if she dies.  It is just one more body bag and another statistic for the mayor to use to get more grant money."

 

     Charlie Mills realized he was powerless.  He was at T's house, he would be arrested if the police came over a disturbance.  Charlie could probably shoot him and say it was justified because he was threatening him in his house.  The police are so busy that one more drug deal in Huntington is not going to be a priority.  The police are shorthanded with less than one hundred officers to protect and serve a city that had been branded "The Heroin Capital of The USA" by networks like HBO, CNN, BBC, and other shows and networks.

 

     Sure, the police had a tip line and wanted to bust drug houses but at the end of the day.... the had dozens of abandoned houses with a drug-addicted ecosystem in each house, hundreds of drug houses, five to ten drug overdoses, and multiple property crimes every day.  The Western Regional Jail was overcrowded so even if the police made the arrests, there was not anywhere to put the criminals.  A police force of under a hundred officers could only be stretched so far to cover a city of over forty thousand citizens.  The police were not trying to arrest every dope man.  The problem is every dope man can kill someone's son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, ect.  If Brooke Mills overdosed, she would be just another statistic to the mayor.  To Charlie Mills it would be the ultimate destruction of his universe.

 

     Charlie left.  He felt old and weak.  He had always been a big man and could fight quite well in his younger days.  But as his dark brown hair turned gray.... the respect for his size dwindled.  Once, he could fill the air with punches and jabs.... now his shoulders ached when he combed his hair.  He had brought many men down through the years as he crashed down onto his knees and on top of them.  Now those knees hurt when he walked up a flight of stairs.  There was not any doubt that Charlie Mills was getting old.  Not only was he getting old through age but also through loss.  The loss had put lines on his face and bags under his eyes.  The loss of sleep due to rushing out late at night to talk to a distraught addict.  The of friends and clients who were taken away by the drug epidemic ate away at his soul.  The loss of dreams of his son and daughter being successful and having productive lives aged him as he watched their lives slide into an abyss of drugs and petty crime.  Loss had certainly aged Charlie as did the loss of control as he was unable to save his family and city from the poison around them.

 

     The counselor knew he had to get rid of the negative thoughts and get into a positive mood before he started talking to clients.  He was going to do what always made him happy and that was going through McDonalds' drive-thru window and getting a half-dozen of sausage biscuits.  It was not because he liked the food...he was about to pull down 4 and a Half Alley and pass out biscuits to the homeless addicts he knew.  He was running late or he would visit the homeless tent city at the Ohio River riverfront.

 

     Some people said that Charlie enabled users too much.  Rocky Meadows, a leader in Huntington recovery who coined the term 'Hopington', used to say that don't give addicts anything, not even a baloney sandwich.  Although Charlie agreed with the concept to a certain extent, he did not like to practice the theory.

 

     He agreed it was true that addicts were very manipulative and would do anything they could for drug money, but he believed helping someone get sober meant forming a relationship.  He understood that users would not quit until they were ready.  Addicts had to decide themselves when it was time to get clean. 

 

     It was a tightrope between enabling and helping and sometimes Charlie leaned too far to the enabling side and fell.  He would be nice and form a relationship and be there for the person.  When the person had finally had enough and was ready for help, then he was there ready to help.  Since trust was already there, the person would listen to him.

 

     The Equinox bounced slowly down pothole-infested Four and a Half Alley until he spied a woman in a dumpster across from the bus station on 13th Street.  She had the side panel open on the blue dumpster and was sifting through the contents.  When she saw something that she thought she could sell, she would stick it in the Kroger buggy stationed next to the dumpster.  The buggy was full of everything from tennis shoes to jackets to baby toys and even a bag of dogfood.  It was a miniature Big-Lots on wheels.

 

     Charlie knew her as Kim.  Kim Hines was thirty-five but looked fifty.  She had been homeless and staying on the streets of Downtown Huntington for about three years.  She came into town from Pittsburgh to visit some friends that she never did find....and never left.  Charlie thought she aged twenty years in those three years.  Her blond hair was long and stringy and looked like it had not been washed in weeks.  She wore black framed glasses that she found in a dumpster a couple of months ago.  A cheap cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth.

 

When she saw Charlie, she ran to the SUV and gave him a hug through the car window.  "Charlie, how ya doing you old man?"

 

     Charlie looked horrified as he she her face.  She had eight holes on her face that she had picked on a meth binge.  He talked to her like he was scolding his own daughter, "Lord, where did those holes in your face come from?"  He already knew she had a habit of digging holes in her face when she was doing drugs.  It broke his heart to see her do this to herself.  Charlie knew she was not yet ready to be treated for her addiction.  She lost two fingers on her left-hand last September when she got an infection from a needle.  He had planted the idea in her that she deserved a better life.  He tried to re-enforce that belief in her whenever he saw her.

     "Lord, Kim....what happened to your face"? He could not look away from the holes on her face although it sickened him to look at the holes.

 

     Kim shrugged her shoulders and smiled, "Honey, it's those meth mites again.  They come in on the meth and get under my skin and I have to pick each one of those things out of there."

 

     Charlie just shook his head up and down slowly.  He knew there was no such thing as meth mites.  They were a delusion that tweakers saw when they were high on meth.  Charlie said slowly, "Well, maybe if you would get off the meth you wouldn't get meth mites."

 

     He handed her a couple of sausage biscuits and a card with his business number on it."

 

     She smiled and hugged him again.  "Honey, I've got a dozen of these cards."

 

     He grinned, "Well, maybe if I give you two hundred cards, you will use one."

 

     She said sternly, "I promise one day I will.  I'll be ready one day."

 

     Charlie looked her right in the eyes and said, "Don't do it for me.  Do it for yourself.  You deserve better than this.  You've got a great heart."

 

     Kim smiled, "Thank you, Honey.  A girl needs to hear that sometimes.  I love you, Old Man.  You’re such a great man and you know that I wouldn't lie to you......" She looked away and wiped a tear.  "This hurts me so much....your boy has been hanging at that abandoned house with that married bitch and her husband.  He's stealing out of cars and doing every drug he can get."  She wiped away another tear.  "You are such a good man, it hurts to tell you bad news."

     Charlie grimaced a little then let out a half of a sigh, "It doesn't surprise me.  He is so easily influenced.  I appreciate you telling me.  I know it is hard telling people things they don't want to hear."

 

     She wiped away another tear, "You are a good man, Charlie.  You are the only one that has tried to save.  Everyone else looks at me like I'm trash.  Someday, when I am ready...I'll let you save me.  You can be my hero when I'm ready."

 

     Charlie smiled and then said in a serious tone of voice, "You've got to save yourself.  You can be your own hero.  You've just got to believe in yourself."

 

     Charlie gave her another hug and then pulled off to his appointment.  It was a good meeting with a man who had been addicted to opiates for seven years.  The man lost his job, his family, and finally his home.  He had been homeless the last year living in abandoned houses and the mission.  He wanted another chance at a life.  Charlie was going to help him all he could.  He called on some favors and immediately got the man in Recovery Point.  It was all up to the man now.  The choice was his.... a real life again or a slow death on drugs.

 

     Charlie pulled up in front of the modest ranch house on the south side of Huntington where the family had lived for ten years.  Amy Mills was sitting in a tan recliner with her eyes closed.  She was a RN at Margaret Mitchell Bateman Hospital.  Bateman, as many called it, was a state-run mental health hospital.  She worked the midnight shift and had just gotten home when her daughter overdosed.  Soon as her nerves settled, she drifted off to sleep.  She was awakened by her husband coming in the front door.

 

     Amy Mills was an attractive lady for fifty years old.  She had blonde hair that rested on her shoulders.  Her face was beginning to show not only her age but the stress of years of drug use.  The only drugs she used now was Xanax, which she had a prescription for.  She used to get hooked on Oxycotin fifteen years ago after a bad car accident injured her back.  It was her addiction that got Charlie into fighting addiction.

 

     Once the government moved to regulate pill mills and the distribution of Oxycontin, Charlie thought the city would recover from the epidemic.  Heroin dealers from Detroit moved in as Oxycontin became scarce and introduced heroin to users who were suffering from chronic pain and withdrawing from Oxycontin.  Amy fit into both categories.  She was soon hooked on heroin.  After several trips to rehab, she finally broke the chain, but the relapses have not completely subsided.  Her job can be physical at times and when her back pain flares up, it can be overbearing.  

 

      Amy and Charlie had been married for thirty years.  They were sweethearts in high school.  Charlie graduated a year before her, but they attended three proms together at Huntington East High School.  Amy never had any addiction problems until the accident.

 

   Amy yawned and looked at Charlie.  He made eye contact and walked over and gave her a hug.  There were a few moments of silence then he said, "How is Brooke doing?"

 

     She looked up at him and said, "She is very tired.  She is in her room.  It took a lot out of her."

 

     Charlie hugged Amy and held her tight as he said, "I don't know what to do anymore.  I can't even save my own family.  Brooke overdosed.  I am hearing that Bradley is stealing and doing drugs again.  He is back in with a bad crowd."

 

     Amy stroked his shoulders and said softly, "Honey, I know how you feel.  I feel like my addiction brought this on our children.  Families all around us are losing their sons and daughters.  I fear we are next.  We have tried and we will keep trying."

     He stepped away from his wife and said, "i just feel like a failure.  I am doubting myself.  I am becoming a joke.  I am thinking I am saving Huntington, but I am not even saving my family.  I am literally watching my family die right in front of my eyes.  I am a joke.  How can I save a stranger when I cannot even save my children."

 

     Amy stared straight into her husband's eyes and raised her voice, "Charlie Mills, you need to quit feeling sorry for yourself.  You have saved lots of lives.  People listen to you.  People respect you.  You have gotten your children help.  It is not your fault they are not well.  I have seen you have many sleepless nights trying to save people.  You have yourself into situations where you could have been killed.  I am not going to listen to anyone call you a joke... including yourself.  I love you.  Your kids love you and need you.  You need to quit beating yourself up and do what you do."

 

     Charlie was quiet for a moment and said firmly, "Thank you, Dear.  You always know what to say.  What would I do without you?"

 

     Amy said, "There is no one else in the world I would trust to save our kids more than you.  You will do it.  It's just hard to be addicted.  You've never done a drug, so you don't know what it is like.  I've been through it.  I know how hard it is.  There are days I can't come out of my room because I want to use so bad.  Somedays, I can't do anything but shake and cry.  I know what they are going through Charlie.  This is not like a fifth-grade science project.  We can't do it for them.  All we can do is be there and try to get them to the people that can help them."

 

     The parents walked into their daughter's bedroom.  She was a pretty twenty-seven-year-old girl.  She had long blond hair and a pretty smile.  She was about five foot six, but the drugs had her weight down to about one hundred and ten pounds.  At her prettiest, she was one hundred and thirty-five pounds.  She had wanted to follow her mother's footsteps and be a nurse, but she flunked out of nursing school when her grades got bad.  Now, she was waiting tables at a local restaurant and only doing that part-time.

 

     Brooke Mills looked up to see her parents staring down at her.  She had been awakened by the creaky wooden door of her room being opened.

 

     Charlie smiled for a moment and asked, "How are you feeling?".

 

     Tears ran down her face as she said, "I am sorry, Daddy.  I know I have let you down, but I swear I haven't been using much."

 

     Charlie shrugged a little and said, "Honey, you always have to remember that a relapse can kill you.  Your mind thinks you can handle same amount that you used to do but your body doesn't have the same tolerance."

 

     Brooke looked away in shame, "I know but I have been depressed lately."

 

     Charlie said sternly, "I know things have been tough for you since You broke up with Jeff and dropped out of school.  But this is not like when you were a little girl and you got caught sneaking out.  This is life and death.  I don't know what we'd do without.  If you have problems that your mom and I can't help with then we can find someone for you to talk to."

 

     "I am really going to be okay.  I promise I won't do anymore."

 

     Amy nudged Charlie and backed out of the room, "Well, this area is more of your mom's expertise than mine.  I am going to let her talk to you alone."

     The mother cuddled up on the bed with her daughter, she gave her a peck on the cheek.  She brushed Brooke's hair back and said, "Remember when you were little, and storms were coming? You were scared of the thunder so we would cuddle up together like this?"

 

     The younger Mills sniffed back a tear, "Of course I do.  And when Lucky died you cuddled with me all night."

 

     Amy looked her in the eyes, "I know you know this, but your dad and I will always be there for you.  I feel a lot of the same things you do.  There are times when I want to use so bad that I cannot stand it.  There are times when I used that no one knows about.  We are human, we make mistakes."

 

     Brook smiled wistfully, "I know, Mommy.  I am so embarrassed.  I really don't want to use.  I just got weak."

     Amy's eyes widened and she said," How about we make a pact together that neither uses without confiding in each other? Deal?"

 

     Brooke agreed, "Deal."

 

     Amy added, "I am off tonight.  How about we find a NA meeting and go together tonight?"

 

     "Deal," Brooke said.  The two held each other quietly until they drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                         CHAPTER 3

 

 

Bradley Mills was having the time of his life.  He had been cruising Huntington in his new stolen Chevy Malibu.  He had seen his acquaintance Lester Cane walking down Fourth Avenue.  No one knew Lester's real name.  They called the thirty-five-year-old homeless drifter Wolverine.  Lester was about five foot nine and stocky.  He had mutton chops and his black curly hair was patterned after X Men hero Wolverine.  He was silly to the point it borderline mentally retarded behavior.  He was loud, obnoxious, and very intrusive.  Today, he proudly wore his X Men t-shirt and was in the passenger seat of the stolen car yelling at girls who were walking down the street.

  Bradley's twangy accent was way above the Hank Williams Jr. Song blasting over the car stereo.  Bradley changed the lyrics as he bellowed, "Wolf, why do ya drink, why do ya shoot food, why is everything ya do so rude and crude, “ Wolverine snickered a few lines, "Ha, ha, ha.  Wolf, you’re such a bad old dude.  He mumbled a few lines and then joined in on the chorus, " If I shoot up meth and run the streets for days, it's a family tradition."

 

Bradley laughed and pulled up a joint and took a hit as he drove.  " You are crazy, Wolfie," he laughed.  "You are off the charts crazy."

 

Wolverine started singing to a blues guitar that was not there, "Daddy was a tweaker annnndddd I am a badass tooooooo.  Yeah.  I'm another edition of an old family tradition.  Hahaha!"  He stopped singing and suddenly yelled, "Dang it, Bradley.....I need some food.....I need some food....I need some dogfood.  Hahaha.  I need some dogfood and some pussy!  Oh yeah.  Oh yeah!  Oh yeah!"

 

It was starting to get dark out.  They had been spending money off of a credit card Wolverine had stolen.  They were waiting on the night to go on a big stealing binge.  The gas was getting low in the car, so it was time to head to the Bando.  There they would meet up with Ronnie and Sandy and others to blitz Downtown Huntington for drug money.

 

Around nine o'clock, the blue Malibu pulled into a parking lot next to the Abando.  It was the parking lot next to apartment buildings a couple of doors down from The Abando.  The pair had tried to buy a case of beer with the stolen credit card, but the card finally failed to go through.  Wolverine was able to rake up change for a Natural Light 22 ounce.

 

Wolverine took a swig of beer and beamed, "So this is the famous Bando that you have been going on about today?"

"Dude, I've had some great times here.  The Bando may not look like much but if these caving in walls could talk......they'd say .... hey, got a point?"

 

The duo was laughing as they approached the dark tower.  The three-story brick structure was once a proud mansion in the 50's to a local doctor.  It was reincarnated in the 70's as a doctor's office by the same doctor in the 70's.  After Dr.  Rory Munson died in 1979 it was sold and became an apartment building.  Over the years the Bando saw its share of tragedy. 

 

There was a double murder suicide in 1991.  A college student Gary Walters came home early from class to find his young girlfriend, Tara Pinson, being plowed by a local drug dealer.  He instantly removed his revolver and in an instant three dead bodies were on the floor.  After that horrific crime scene, it was hard to rent the place out.  A man later bought it in 2001.  Charley Hayes was his name.  He was an old recluse, He died in 2004 of natural causes.  His body was at the Bando rotting away until it was discovered by his daughter two weeks later.  His daughter tried to sell it to no avail.  The building continued to rot.  She rented it out to a few people over the years, but it turned into a huge slum.

The last renter moved out in 2011.  Vines started digesting the building.  It was officially an abandoned house.  Squatters started staying in the Bando.  In 2013, nineteen-year-old Darrell Lincoln was staying there when it he could not find anywhere else.  Darrell was hooked on heroin.  He took his last shot of heroin in the downstairs kitchen of The Bando.  His body was found by fellow squatters.  There was a huge bloodstain on the floor next to his body.

 

Three months later, the Bando caught on fire.  It made the huge building more unstable than ever.  There was a marathon race being ran on Fifth Avenue when a runner noticed the fire.  If it was not for the fire being spotted early and the quick response by The Huntington Fire Department, the Bando would have been a total loss and likely would have taken the two neighboring white apartment buildings next to it with it as well.

 

Both the front and back of the building had been boarded up and consumed by vines.  The yard was full of old trash and debris that had been left by squatters over the years.  There were a set of stairs to the left of the building that led to the basement.  At the bottom of the basement was an old wooden door.  The old busted open door served as the entrance to the Bando.

 

The building was dark inside and a lantern sat in the middle of the basement.  Bradley led the way with a powerful flashlight.  Once downstairs, the two saw Ronnie and Sandy sitting next to the lantern preparing another shot.  In the corner was another homeless boy and he was passed out.  The boy had short red hair and freckles.  He was young and skinny, and Bradley had never seen him before.  Bradley immediately thought that boy was only about fifteen.

 

"Who is that? “ Bradley asked shining the light on the boy.

Sandy was preparing her shot in a pan and looked up and said, "I think his name is Tucker.  He just showed up here.  He is a runaway from somewhere in Kentucky.  He acted like he was a dope fiend but did one shot and went out."

 

Bradley went over to the boy.  "Is he okay?  He started feeling for a pause and was relieved when he found one.

"That boy's alright,” Ronnie scowled savoring his shot.  "Just a little babe.  He says he is seventeen but I'm highly doubting it.  He looks fourteen-ish to me".

 

Wolverine stepped up and beamed a big toothy smile at Sandy, "Who is this hot little filly?"

 

Sandy blushed and shined her flashlight on the newcomer and said, "Well, you look just like Wolverine."

 

Wolverine flexed his bicep in a pose and sucked his stomach in.  "That's what they call me he said.  They call me Wolverine."

 

Ronnie instantly detested his new rival.  It was not because he was jealous of the new guest to the Bando, he just naturally disliked the guy.  He mumbled, "Idiot."

 

Wolverine's ears perked up and he scowled, "What did you say?"  He gave Ronnie a menacing look.

 

"I said you’re a fucking idiot.  You can put your cock back in your pants, she is my old lady." Ronnie said as he stood up and took a step toward Wolverine.

 

Wolverine was embarrassed and mad at the same time.  He started to step toward Ronnie, but Bradley jumped in front of him.  Sandy stood back as she was stunned that Ronnie actually appeared jealous.  It was the first time in a while that her husband showed any emotion toward her and it made her feel a little hot and horny.  Bradley was even a little jealous at his new friend's reaction to the girl he loved.  He said, "Wolfie, just be cool.  We don't need any trouble here. That's his wife."

Wolverine was in show-off mode, "Well, Buddy, I didn't know she was your wife.  I was just making it known that I'd certainly fuck her."

 

Ronnie started to go forward, and Sandy jumped in his way.  She looked at Wolverine and said, "Buddy, that is plain rude."

 

Bradley looked him in the face as he was in front of him shoving him back away from Ronnie.  Bradley said, "Dude, that ain't right.  We are in their home.  Show some respect.  You are a quest here."

 

Wolverine shook his head and laughed, "What do ya mean we are in their home.  We are in a fucking abandoned house.  This is the biggest shithole I have been in in a while.  Just give me some fucking dope and we will call it even."

 

Ronnie was amazed and said, "Are you kidding me?  Where in the hell did you find this cartoon character at?  He is really going to come in here and insult my wife of ten years and I and then want us to give him our dope?  Where did you find this moron at?"

 

Sandy shook her head sideways and sighed, "Let's just start over guys.  Come on.  I am Sandy.  This is my husband Ronnie."  She motioned for Ronnie to shake his hand but Ronnie walked away in disgust.

 

Bradley pulled out what little bit of dope he had left and offered Wolverine a shot.  Bradley wanted to do anything at the moment to keep the peace although he hated to part with his heroin.

 

Wolverine slapped him on his back and said, "Been holding out on me, Buddy?"

 

There was silence as each of them readied up a shot and stuck it in their arms.  Wolverine grunted as the dope entered his bloodstream.  It had been a long time since he had seen a girl that he was as attracted to as he was to Sandy.  He knew that he left a bad first impression.  He knew drug girls like Sandy did not have loyalty to anyone but the needle, but he also knew that he just looked like a big creep.  He knew he was going to have to straighten up a bit if he was going to get with her.

 

Bradley decided to break the awkward silence and blurted out, "you should see my new ride!"

 

Ronnie perked up, "Did that ol' daddy of yours finally buck up and get his little boy a car?"

 

Bradley laughed, "That cheap bastard ain't buying me nothing.  I lifted it from Flats parking lot."

 

Sandy was at once feeling hot and wet as the idea of a stolen car seemed badass and turned her on.  She was wanting to physically jump on top of Bradley at the moment.  "No way!  you ain't got the balls!" She laughed.

"It's right outside. Got me a Malibu.  Wolfie and I have been cruising all evening.  We got to go out and cruise around some more."  Bradley said.

 

Even Ronnie was impressed.  A car can certainly come in handy.  They could hit other areas tonight.  They have been breaking into cars in the same neighborhood and he knew they needed to get to a different part of town.  Ronnie said loudly, "My dear!  Our little boy is finally growing up!"

There seemed to be some friction in the air.  First, there was the obvious tension created by there being three men and only one woman.  Throw in the fact that the girl was good looking and knew how to grab attention and exploit others' emotions for her gain and that is extra gasoline for the rampaging fire.  Ronnie was married and although he may actually be the least interested in his wife, he also did not have anything to gain from these two being with her.  He had profited in the past from Bradley Mills falling in love with Sandy, but Bradley was now breaking and quite simply, Ronnie did not have anything else to gain by letting their romance go any further.  Bradley was now deeply in love, but he had already been with Sandy tonight and was feeling guilty about their romance now that his needs had been met.  Wolverine was crazy and rowdy and not only was he very attracted in Sandy, it would also do his ego good if he could take the girl away from her husband and her lover.

 

The subplot in the drama was that each of the three men wanted to be a leader.  They each had their own idea how they should use the stolen vehicle to steal more items and money to buy more drugs.

 

Wolverine sucked in his gut and threw his chest out followed by a brief flex of his biceps as he asserted, "Guys, there's drugs to be made...or should I say.... money to be made.  Let's get this pirate ship out there and start plundering."

 

Ronnie just looked at the newcomer and shook his head, "What in the hell do you know about this area?  You do not have any idea.  It is too early for one thing.  You come walking in here like some overanxious fat kid at a birthday party.  The thing is it ain't your cake."

 

Wolverine rolled his eyes, "All right, Bones, what the hell does that even mean?  What in the hell are you even talking about?  Me and this Bradley dude has been cruising around in this car all day.  You are lucky we are even letting you go with us."

 

Sandy looked at Wolverine and then at Ronnie.  "For one thing," she said with her hands on her hips. "Bradley stole the car, so he has a right to say what we do in it and second of all.... there is far too much testosterone in this room.  You guys need to quit posturing and keep your cocks in your pants because all I want tonight is some dogfood and ice cream."

Wolverine made a sour face, "Now, who do you think you are, Missy.  First of all, you seem to be confused on your value there.  You may be easy on the eyes, but you are definitely leftovers.  I don't want sloppy seconds or thirds....so don't flatter yourself."

 

Sandy laughed, "Okay.  And I guess you haven't spent every second since you came here trying to get my attention.  Whatever!"

 

Bradley was starting to want to go home.  It had been over a day since he even checked in at home.  He was a grown man, but he still felt like his parents deserved the respect of him being home every now and then.  His mother and father both worried about him and it were making him feel as guilty as the whole triangle with Ronnie and Sandy.  He had been with Wolverine for several hours and he was getting sick of the big buffoon.  Now Bradley was getting tired and hungry and just wanted to go home and see his family, get something to eat, and go to bed.  He had been with Sandy already and was used to sharing her so he was ready to wait until he could be around without the presence of any other males.

 

He started looking disinterested with the situation and looking toward the door.  Wolverine picked up at his acquaintance's sudden anxiousness and said, "Why are seeming so squirrelly all of sudden, Brad.  You look like you are thinking about taking your wheels and cutting out on us.  You promised me a rambunctious evening tonight and I still want it."

 

Brad shook his head in frustration and said, "Dude, I'm tired of the drama.  My parents are probably worried, and I need to go home."

 

Wolverine chuckled loudly and bellowed, "How old are you, Son?  Twelve.  Be a man.  You made some obligations to us and you need to keep them."

Bradley started getting mad and raised his voice, "Dammit, Dude... just keep the damn car.  The police are probably looking for it anyway.  I'm not in the mood for a bunch of bickering and fighting.  I can find something better than listening to everyone squabble about who is in charge."

Wolverine shook his head and laughed, "Really, Dude?  I don't think you have anything better to do. I think something isn't working out the way you want it to, so you want to take your ball and bat and go home."  He started to rub his eyes like he was crying as he tried to get Bradley worked up.  He thought for a moment and then added, "On second thought, just go home.  If you leave, there will be more treasure for the rest of us pirates.

 

Ronnie was tired of being quiet and chipped in, "Dude, you have an unnatural obsession with pirates."  He then looked at Bradley, "Man, we have wheels tonight.  We can hit areas we haven't hit yet.  They are starting to watch us around here.  We can hit Barboursville or Pea Ridge tonight.  As your goofy pal would say.... we can fish unfished waters and reap bigger bounty."  Ronnie laughed at his own reference to Wolverine's pirate talk. 

 

Sandy made a grimacing face at Ronnie and then looked at Bradley and said, "Brad, let me talk to you outside."  When Bradley looked away; she turned her head back to her husband and stuck up her index finger and mouthed, "One minute."  She turned and followed the younger man out of The Bando.

 

Once outside she put her arms around him and looked up at him.  She kissed him softly and said, "Listen, Honey, I know you are tired, but that guy you brought here scares the hell out of me.  I don't trust him.  He looks at me like I'm a piece of me and he's some kind of retarded tiger.  He is retarded."

 

Bradley kissed her on the lips and then her neck, she could talk him into anything, but he was determined to make her work for it.  in a low voice he purred, "Something just doesn't feel right.  Something is telling me not to stay."

She kissed him.  She pulled Bradley almost on top of her.  She asked softly, "If you love me...and something doesn't feel right.... how can you leave me?"

Bradley thought for a few moments and assured the woman he loved, "I won't go.  I won't leave you if you don't feel safe."

 

Sandy wiped a tear out of her eye and said, "That guy scares me.  Ronnie can't protect me like you can.  He will hurt Ronnie and it's hard telling what he will do to me if you aren't around.  I need you."   

 

They turned to walk back inside and were met in the doorway by the other two men.  Bradley looked at Wolverine and said, "I guess I am in for a little while."

Sandy walked past them and pulled out her phone.  it was a cheap LG phone she traded a shot of dope for in the alley.  The alley was full of stolen phones.  They would reset the phone or change the Sims card and connect with TextNow.  Then they could text or hook up somewhere to WIFI to make calls.  After a minute phone call, she announced, "I'll be right back.  I'm getting us a little something for the road."

 

She quickly disappeared into the alley.  She ducked into a rundown brick building with graffiti on the walls.  She was met at the door by a frail looking dirty man who looked like he could be Cheech and Chong's cousin.  Without a word the door closed behind them.  Immediately the man dropped his holey jeans.  As soon as the jeans hit the floor, Sandy hit the floor to her knees.  The man was hard as a rock.  sandy puffed hard for about two minutes.  She wiped her face and spit to the left.  Without saying a word, she took a baggy from the man as he pulled up his pants.  She quickly disappeared back into the alley.

 

Sandy walked back into The Bando.  She was waving the baggy around and yelled with excitement, "Hey kids, looky what mommy has.... ice cream!" Not one of the three men questioned where the dope came from.  The only question they had was where the closest needle was.  In fact, they all used two different needles.  Even though they took their rigs to The Cabell Huntington Health Department and exchanged them, they still used other user's needles...but then again, they all already had Hepatitis C. 

  

Minutes later, they lumbered out of The Bando.  Wolverine put his hand out toward Bradley, "Keys, son.  I am taking over this pirate ship.  Ronnie is my first mate.  He knows the best fishing areas.  He gets shotgun.  You get in the back with Sandy."

Bradley was aggravated that Wolverine was taking charge but at least he got to be in the back with Sandy.  He told himself that maybe his new friend did that to him as a secret favor.  

Wolverine backed up and then pulled the blue Malibu out of the parking lot sharply spraying gravel everywhere.  The Malibu shot out of the lot and nearly hit a lady pushing a buggy of trash down the alley. The Malibu fishtailed over a patch of gravel used to fill a pothole and the backend of the car colliding with the buggy.  The force of the collision sent the lady, Kim Hines, tumbling onto the alley.  She started screaming at the car.  Wolverine lowered the driver's side window and yelled, "You stupid bitch!  Stay out of the damned road.  Stay out of the dumpsters, too....you nasty bitch!"  The bounced down the alley slamming into potholes and rocking the four would-be pirates all over the small vehicle.  Wolverine added, "Good thing, this isn't really our car...these potholes are hell on the shocks!" 

 

 

It was eleven o'clock at The Mills' house.  Charlie Mills kept checking his cell phone.  It had been well over twenty-four hours since he heard anything from his son.  He knew his son was a grown man but given his past adventures and the information he heard from Kim Hines earlier in the day, he had reason to worry.

He regretted not paying his son's cell phone bill.  On one hand, his son needed some responsibility and needed to learn to prioritize his money to keep a cell phone...but on the other hand, if he could talk to his son right now then he would not be as worried.  

Charlie had spent the evening with his wife and daughter watching movies on DVD.  He had just rented the new Julia Roberts' movie about addiction called Ben Is Back and they all enjoyed it.  It had been a very pleasant evening but there were some heavy issues on Charlie's mind and the main one was the whereabouts and safety of his son, Bradley Mills.

 

Charlie popped open his third Diet Dr. Pepper of the evening and sipped it straight from the can.  He was enjoying spending the evening with Brooke and did not want to bring up the concern he had for her brother, but his curiosity finally got the best of him.  He took a big gulp of the drink and asked as innocently as possible, " Do you know anything about this place the squatters are calling The Bando down by St. Joe?"

 

Brooke pulled up a handful of popcorn and tossed a couple of pieces in her mouth as she said, "It's just abandoned house where some squatters hang out and do drugs.  Not my kind of crowd, Daddy.  Just because I overdosed doesn't mean I'm hanging out in trap houses now."

 

Charlie cocked his head and held his hand up, "Okay, okay, that's not what I meant.  Someone told me Brad was hanging out at that place.  I wasn't implying that you were."

 

"Again, Dad...Brad's crowd is not my crowd.  I certainly don't kick it with homeless people.  I am not some druggie that is so strung out that I hang out hoping to get a rinse.  Maybe Brad is but the only reason I have been shooting up is that it is just hard being alone relationship-wise.  It is just hard for me", Brooke said as her voice cracked.

 

Charlie was in defense mode, he said, “Again I am certainly not prying into your life and I'm not even prying into Brad's life.  I haven't seen him much lately and I hear he is around the wrong people."

 

"Well, Daddy, he has always been a follower.  He doesn't have the same judge of character instinct that I have...that is why we have never hung around the same people.  He loves to get high at any cost.  I do dope because I get depressed.  He does it just to be high."

 

Charlie took another swig of Diet Dr. Pepper and said, "I just keep getting a bad feeling.  Something just isn't right."

 

Brooke finished off her popcorn and stated, "I know you are up on all of this stuff and you know there's a lot of drifters coming into town and staying at these abandoned houses.  They are mostly on ice.  Ice makes them crazy.  Brad will do anything that will get him buzzed but he prefers ice.  He loves the speed.  Now, I prefer heroin.  I don't like to be sped up."

 

This was not a conversation that Charlie enjoyed.  His daughter had a therapist and attended NA meetings and he knew that she had people to help her.  Her therapist said she suffered from depression and used drugs to self-medicate.  Now, she was taking medication for depression, so Charlie did not quite understand why she was using heroin again.  He was afraid a deeper conversation with his daughter could turn negative, so he decided to trust her therapist to find out the real reason.

 

He was getting concerned about his son.  He could tell that his daughter was getting tired, so he bid her goodnight.  He could hear his wife moving around so he walked into their bedroom.  Amy had just woken up from a nap.  She usually worked midnights, so she was used to taking an evening nap and being awake all night.  She stayed on that schedule on her nights off so she would usually read at night while her husband slept.

 

"I never had heard from Bradley.  I just wonder what he is out getting into?" Charlie said as he walked into the room and took his shirt off.

 

Amy was folding some clothes and shrugged her shoulders, "Hard to tell.  Whatever it is it isn't very likely that he would be home this early.  if you want to know where he is at all of the time you should pay his phone bill."

 

"I heard he is in with a wrong crowd.  I'm really thinking of filing a mental hygiene against him.  If we don't stop him, he will be back in prison again...or worse."

 

"Charlie, he really hasn't done anything for you to sign a mental hygiene.  You have to list specifics and you just can't say he is late coming home.  He is a grown man.  It also is based on what he has done in the last two weeks.  They don't factor in what he did years ago."

 

Charlie sighed, “But there has to be something we can do.  This is pattern behavior.  How many times have we seen it start like this...you know...not coming home...then when he does, he is either spaced out or amped up?  The next thing is a call from jail.  One of these times it is going to be a call from the morgue."

 

Amy put her arms on her husband’s hips and lowered her voice.  She said calmly, "Baby, I know you are concerned but I think you are just overworked and stressed.  Look around the city, Babe...you are winning.  It is there in the statistics.  There are less overdoses and less deaths.  We finally have the treatment beds we need.  Clinics and sober living houses are everywhere.  There are pages and pages of success stories on the internet.  You have helped save so many lives.  Recovery is all around us....and you helped start it."

 

Charlie put his head down and slowly shook it back and forth.  He said, "People are still dying.  Narcan and reclassifying the calls as cardiac arrests or man down is skewering the statistics.  People are relapsing and dying.  But worse than that we have already begun a meth explosion.  Meth is getting worse every day.  It has been going on, but we are just starting to see the long-term damage it done.  I lost a girl a few days I have worked with.... but it wasn't a shot.  It was long term damage.  The drug took her piece by piece.  Last year she had open heart surgery.  She wouldn't quit the meth.  She lost toes.  She was eaten up with infections, but she wouldn't get more help because she wanted a shot.  I saw her at the mission in her wheelchair, but she wouldn't get help.  Then the next she was burning up and shit and pissed herself.  She was at the bus station.  I called an ambulance.  She died two days later."  He wiped a tear from his eyes.  He was choked up.  He continued, "No news story.  No overdose.... not even a stat.  They will call it death by natural causes, but meth ate away at her organs...piece by piece."

 

Amy brushed the front of his hair gently with her hand, I know it is tough out there, Baby.  But you're too hard on yourself.  You never give yourself any credit for good that is happening.  There is good happening."

 

Charlie shook his head slowly and said, "I'm just scared.  I thought Brooke was doing better and then she almost dies.  Just a few more minutes and we would be planning her funeral.  I just feel like something is up with Bradley,”. He shook his head.  "It never ends.  We are never really out of danger.  We are always on the edge of disaster. How can I save a city when I can't even save my family."

 

Amy said softly, "Just give yourself a break.  There's no one in this world I'd trust to save our kids than you.  You are a good man Charlie Mills."

 

Sandy sat in the backseat of the Malibu next to Bradley.  Her husband, Ronnie, sat in the front passenger seat next to the driver, a man who called himself Wolverine.  Sandy looked at Bradley and flashed him a faint smile.  She quietly ran her fingers across the back seat until they met his.  She watched him out of the corner of her eyes so her husband could not see that she was looking at Bradley.

 

Bradley Mills was an attractive young man.  Sandy had met very few men who were as respectful and polite as he was.  He was hyper and had ADHD but she did love to be around him.  Did she love him?  She often asked herself that question, but the answer was complicated.

In a perfect world, they could be a great couple.  They could be sweethearts.  He would send her flowers.  They would take long walks in Ritter Park.  The two would dine at Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe and watch movies at Pullman Square.  They would take vacations to Myrtle Beach where they would walk hand in hand in the sand as the sun set and the waves rolled in.  They would whisper sweet nothings and talk about the children that have not been born yet.  Alas, this was Huntington, West Virginia....very far from a perfect world......And she was a married addict giving blowjobs in alleys to keep from being sick......And he was a confused felon cranked up on ice stealing change from unlocked cars to keep the high from crashing down.  There was no future for people like them.  Sadly, they could deny that fact when talking to each other....but when alone....deep down....each knew it was true....they did not have a future together....and they may not even have much of a future alone.

 

She looked at her husband Ronnie.  They once had that love...those dreams.  As a smitten boy he sent her roses.  They swam naked in the South Carolina ocean.  Ronnie worked fifty hours a week and she worked part-time.  But just like the way time eroded and The Bando... a once beautiful building.... heroin and drugs tore down their marriage.  Just like the red paint that had been wore off the front of The Bando...the love had been worn out of their relationship until the point that not only did not love each other...they barely loved themselves.

 

Bradley did not know if it was love or not.  He was along for the ride in more than one way.  She was the hottest girl he had ever been with.  He was riding the party train and she was the scenic view of the ride.  He was not sure if he really wanted to spend the rest of his life with her or not.  Right now, riding the party train with Sandy was the best ride he could find.  He knew his dad could help him get off the party train when he did not want to ride any more.  Bradley Mills did not plan on being addicted forever.  The party train was a temporary ride to him, but it was his choice of travel for the moment.

 

The Malibu stopped in an upper-class subdivision in West Pea Ridge.  The wannabe pirates plundered the innocent like Blackbeard plundering a merchant vessel.  They took change, CDs, clothing, and anything of value they could find out of vehicles and off of porches.  To the foursome it was just another day at the office.  To the families who woke to find their vehicles and properties ransacked...it was a violation.  It was not about the money or belongings...their little world was violated.  Their sense of safety had been stripped from them.  They suddenly realized that they were not safe from the outside world.  The world was ugly and rude.  They could not deny any longer that they may live on the outskirts, but they still lived in that dirty, mean world that they thought they were safe from.

 

The adrenalin coursed through their veins as they plundered the quiet street stripping it of its innocence as they supported their drug habit.  The four combined for 237.68 in cash which was mainly change.  This money would quickly be transferred into heroin and ice.  They got t-shirts and hats which they would use.  Tools which would be pawned and thus becoming drug money for tomorrow.  A couple of nice lawn ornaments and chairs that would be future drug money.  They found gift cards to Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Fat Patty's.  They would call and see how much were on those and try to trade them to drug dealers for dope.  The three MasterCard’s they found would be perfect for cigarettes and some food.  They stopped at Speedway and Go Mart on the way back to The Bando and got three cartons of L&M full flavor regular cigarettes.  They also stopped at Wal Mart where they bought a lantern and a couple of more flashlights to add more light to The Abando.

 

It was three-thirty in the morning before the Malibu pulled back up to The Abando.  As the four clamored out of the car anxious to shoot up some of the dope purchased with the prizes of their plundering, they noticed there were a few people sleeping on their porch.  They did not feel like fighting over The Bando or sharing their drugs, so they quietly crept around to the side door and into the basement.

 

They instantly began injecting the drugs into their bodies.  Bradley sent the ice flying into his arm.  The instant gratification was there.  His chest began pounding.  His ears began warming.  He was alive and dancing in the dark.  He was pulsating up and down and spinning around in circles.  Suddenly, he went tumbling onto the floor.  "Damn!"  He looked at what he fell over and was stunned.  "Oh my God, " he yelled, "Tucker! I forgot all about Tucker!"  He shined a flashlight on him.  "He's dead! Oh my God, Tucker is dead!"

 

Wolverine jumped over to the boy's body, he searched for a pulse. Wolverine shook his head.  "He's not breathing".  Doornail, guys...deader than a doornail."

Bradley turned to Sandy, "Call 911.  Hurry, Sandy!"

Wolverine shrugged his shoulders and said, "He's dead.  What's the point?  He's been dead for hours.  Why call the law?  They haven't made a Narcan yet that can raise the dead!"

 

Bradley stood in his face and demanded, "We are calling 911.  Either Sandy calls or I am going to find a phone."

Wolverine protested,” Now what do we have to gain by doing?  He isn’t going to come back to life.  He is dead if we call and he is dead if we don't."

Bradley was fired up and it was not just the ice.  He was now nose to nose with Wolverine.  This was common decency in his mind.  Bradley yelled, "We are getting his body back to his family where it belongs."

 

Ronnie spoke up, "Give me the phone, Sandy.  Why bring the police here just to get ran out?  Plus, we have a stolen car full of stolen stuff.  We don't even really know that kid."

Sandy did what her husband said and gave Ronnie the phone.  Bradley shook his head and moved toward the door.  He said to Sandy, "You made your choice and now I'm making mine."

 

"You ain't going anywhere.  You damn sure ain't running home to Daddy and rat us out." Wolverine said as he attacked Bradley driving him into the wall.  Wolverine underestimated Bradley.  Wolverine had the size advantage, but Bradley was faster and was an adrenalin junkie.  The ice and ADHD took him to another level.  He had been institutionalized most of his life and learned to defend himself.  He quickly dodged away and land a quick flurry to Wolverine's upper body and snapped his back.  Wolverine stepped back and instinctively pulled out a switchblade knife.  In the mostly dark Bando Bradley could not see it coming.  Wolverine leaned into him and thrusted forward driving the blade into his chest.  He pulled it back out and in again a few more times until Bradley fell into him.  Within seconds Bradley Mills was dead at Wolverine's feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             CHAPTER 4

 

 

 

Harley Baker walked into Hal Greer Speedway about the same time Bradley Mills' body hit the floor of The Bando.  While Harley was military through and through and was an early riser, it was still early by his standards.  He immediately found himself at the coffee bar pouring a 16ounce cup full and adding two sugars and two creamers.

 

Harley Baker was retired from The Marines.  He still wore his hair relatively short even though at 61, his hair was not silver instead of the jet black from his Marine days.  He wore a black specialized conceal and carry polo shirt and a pair of blue jean shorts.  Inside his holster was a Baby Glock, a slim Glock 26.  This was the smallest of his fairly large gun collection, but never less, one of his favorites.  Even if he was just coming to Speedway to get a coffee and a paper, the Baby Glock went with him.
 

At five foot nine and one hundred- and forty-pounds Harley did not appear intimidating, but he moved purposely and confidently.  He was as fit and solid as when he was a Marine.  Everything he did, he did fast.  Pouring his coffee and stirring his cream and sugar was like a race to Harley.  Everything the ex-Marine did was competitive, if he was not competing with someone else then he was competing with himself.

 

The Speedway cashier, Russ Gibson, was startled when he looked back and saw his customer making coffee.  Harley moved past him so fast he did not even notice him walking in.  Russ raised his eyebrows and said, "what are you doing in here so early, Harley?"  Seeing Harley getting his coffee usually meant that Russ's shift was almost over.  The Marine usually came in about six as Russ was counting his drawer down.  often Russ would stand outside and talk with him after work.

 

Russ Gibson was a former military man himself.  He was in the Army and served a combat tour in Iraq.  He liked to listen to the animated ravings of Harley Baker, even though he did not always quite agree with Baker's far right stance.  Russ brought his coffee up to the register.  Ricky Means, a Huntington Police Department officer was standing off to the left of the register dabbing at his coffee.  His shift was over halfway over, and he was just trying to hang onto the ropes and finish out his shift.

Harley tipped his head to the officer and then presented his Speedy Rewards card and a dollar for his coffee to Russ.  Harley omitted a half-sigh and said, "Just couldn't sleep.  I rolled around and got up and listened to the scanner a bit and just decided to get the day going.  Can't start it without my Speedway coffee."  He took another sip of coffee and looked at the police officer and said, "Sounds like it wasn't a bad night for you guys."

 

Ricky Means was in his third year as a member of the HPD.  He was a tall athletic man with dark black skin and short curly black hair.  He had a kind of bored look on his face but said, "Not a bad night.  Checking up on us with the scanner, eh?" Ricked asked as his face broke into a slight smile.

 

Harley smiled and said, "I am just an interested citizen who cares about my home.  I run The Huntington Crime Alert page on Facebook.  We have around twenty thousand members and we try to help you guys out as often as possible.  We encourage people to call the crime tip line and to help keep a watch what is going on in our neighborhoods.  We also warn each other about patterns and trending things we feel others need to know about."

Ricky shook his head up and down and said, "I think I have heard of your group, I am not on Facebook myself.  We appreciate any help people can give us."

Harley took another drink as he put his wallet away and stepped off next to the HPD officer.  "How do you think things are out there right now.  I mean I hear so much about this recovery stuff going on and I just wondered if you guys are seeing it on the streets out there?"

Again, Ricky shook his head up and down, "We still have our moments.  There is recovery going on.  I have personally some of the guys who were the worst when I started, straighten up and even help others.  But there are obviously still drugs out there.  I mean when something is as deep-rooted as the epidemic was, it just isn't going to let go overnight, but I have seen some miracles.  People do recover."

 

Harley countered immediately, "I just see so much and... pardon me for saying...but it seems like you guys have gotten softer.  Well...I mean...I know it is tough.  You guys only have about 90 cops working out there.  It seems like the last year, you guys are playing prevent defense."

Ricky had a puzzled look on his face and asked, "What's work with being preventive or proactive?"

 

Harley shrugged a little and answered, "I guess I kind of used the wrong term.  What I meant was prevent defense.... like in football.  Instead of being aggressive and blitzing the quarterback and being aggressive at the line of scrimmage, you guys are kind of laying back off the ball about ten to fifteen yards and giving them anything small."

 

Ricky again had a puzzled look on his face and responded, "I'm not quite sure I'll go along with that or not.  I do think we are preventive...not maybe your idea of prevent defense, but we try to be visible and interact with the community and prevent crime when we can.  Like you kind of said, it is hard to go man to man," he smiled as he used the older man's football analogies and continued, "when you are vastly outmanned.  Sometimes you just have to do what you can, but I think we do quite well."

 

Russ was quite as he watched the two man banter back and forth.  He kind of agreed with both and felt that both were on the same side and he knew Harley always wanted accountability.  Very few things were very easy with Harley and Russ was well aware of it.  He had regularly witness Harley beret everyone from drug users to police to lawyers and magistrates.

 

Harley paused and spun his eyes a bit as if he was debating if he should say what was on his mind.  He paused and then blurted out, "I know you guys are doing the best you can.  you have to do what you are told.  I blame a lot of what is going on, on the mayor.  He is just too enabling.  We have the free needles and Narcan,.  I mean he doesn't encourage it but I feel like he enables it."

 

Ricky scratch his chin and said, "I still don't get why you feel that way.  These people are sick.  If we just stick them in jail and not try to alter their behavior, then they will just go back to the way they were once they get out.  We want to change them."

 

Harley was on him, "Why the needles?  Why give them the free needles.  That is why all of these backpackers are coming to town.  More get off of the bus every day.  They are here for the free needles and the abandoned houses that you guys just run them off from and they come straight back.

 

Ricky was a little tired this evening and the man's increasingly aggressive behavior was starting to get on the officer's nerves.  He was thinking of what to say when another customer had approached the register and then turned to the debating duo.

 

The customer was in his late twenties and was short and stocky and wearing a Marshall University shirt.  He looked at the two men having the discussion and said, "Guys, I'm sorry if I am rude.  I heard some of your conversation.  I just want to thank the officer.  I don't personally know him but one of his fellow officers saved my life.  About two years ago I was breaking into cars and buying drugs.  I overdosed.  The officer got there before the EMS.  He saved me, but more important than the Narcan is that I ran into him a few nights later.  Dakota Woods was his name.  I actually looked for him.  We had a long talk.  He didn't throw any bullshit at me.  He was truthful.  He talked about what he has witnessed while on the streets.  He got to me.  I entered Recovery Point a few days later.  I hadn't done any more drugs since I talked to Officer Woods.  So, I am grateful to The HPD."

 

Harley just looked at the man.  Ricky smiled and shook his head again and said, "Thanks.  Officer Woods is now Detective Woods.  He is a good man.  I am very glad to hear you are clean."  He patted him on the back and started out the door.  "I've got to go, guys.  Recovery does work if you let it."

 

The customer purchased a pack of cigarettes and was out the door.  Harley looked at Russ and changed the subject.  Harley cocked his head and smiled.  Harley was a good talker but not so good of a listener.  When his brain made up its' mind about something, it very rarely changed its opinion.

 

Harley started reading Charlie Mills Recovery Man page on Facebook a couple of years ago and it led him to take an interest in his home town.  One day when he was bored, he contacted Charlie.  After several emails they met for lunch and discussed city issues.  Harley was the type of man who obsessed over his hobbies.  He quickly became obsessed with local politics.  Charlie, on the other hand, had a limited interest in politics.

 

Harley's wife Betty had died from cancer a dozen years prior.  His lone son, Lane, followed his dad's footsteps in the military but joined The Army.  He was stationed in Germany in the late nineties.  He met a nice girl and when he was discharged, he decided to live in Germany with Harley's two granddaughters.

 

Harley was a jail guard at West Regional Jail for a few years until he decided to retire and live off of his retirement from the Marines.  He got by okay financially but since he did not like to date, he did not have a lot to occupy his time.  when he discovered local politics and his Facebook page, he became deeply obsessed.

 

Harley helped Charlie with his page as he wrote articles and helped him film videos.  It soon became obvious that Harley was too focused on crime and politics for Charlie's interest.  Charlie's main interest was the destruction caused by the drug epidemic and if and how Huntington could bounce back.

 

Charlie encouraged Harley to start his own page.  The Huntington Crime Alert page was primarily intended to be a 911 page.  Members would listen to a police scanner and post events so everyone would know what qas going on.  A live scanner feed would also be featured at certain times.  The original concept was awareness.  Harley then began to point out how many stories were missed by local media.  Little by little, politics crept into the picture.  It was at that point when Harley revealed to Charlie that his goal was to gain political support for his ideas and beliefs.  He even went as far as saying he wanted to tell people what to believe.  His site became big fast and the followers came in droves.  He hinted he would run for City Council, but his newfound followers wanted him to be mayor.

 

The more the page host criticized and mocked current mayor, Preston Porter, the more loved he became.  The big divide between the two-page hosts came when Harley started attacking Mayor Porter's stance on The Cabell Huntington Health Department's needle exchange.

 

A bunch of members of The Huntington Crime Alert page posted how Mayor Porter and The City of Huntington were handing out free needles to addicts.  The addicts were leaving the needles all over town in parks, playgrounds, school yards, and on city streets all over town.  They thought that if the needles were not given out free than they would not be discarded everywhere.  They also felt that it was not an even exchange.  Many users were getting more needles without turning any in, so they thought it was not an exchange but a simple giveaway.  The group also said that many needles ended up in the hands of drug dealers who sold them to users and profited off of them.

Charlie argued that the needles were helping to stop the spreading of HIV and hepatitis c.  The disease was being passed on to other drug users through dirty needles.  Charlie also pointed out that if the users did not bring them back to get new ones then there would be more out there.  Users were also out searching for more needles so they could receive more at the exchange.

 

The divide between the two had been getting wider and wider.  Harley had expanded his attack on the rehabs that had been coming to town and had been suggesting that some of the grant money had been ending up in Mayor Porter's wallet.  Harley felt like help should be offered once and one time only.  There were empty schools and buildings that could be used as temporary hospitals.  They would be like portable MASH units.  Recently graduated doctors could be used to treat the patients in return for student loan forgiveness to pay off their medical school debts.  The rehabs could be used quickly and then the problem would be solved.

 

Harley ranted that rehabs were becoming an industry in Huntington.  The industry would turn out more addicts to keep itself alive.  No business would want to open to solve the problem only to close a year or two later.  Harley believed that once the problem was solved in Huntington, they would bring more users in from out of state.  Harley estimated that the failure rates of rehabs were seventy to eighty per cent.  Harley could envision of user coming from somewhere like St. Louis.  Once they sign themselves out, they stay on the streets of Huntington, thus creating more addicts.

 

Harley Baker finished his coffee and left Speedway.  He went home to his home by Ritter Park.  After he switched into green Marshall University sweats, he went for a brisk two mile run in the park.

 

His blood was pumped from the run and caffeine in his veins, he sat down at his dining room table with his laptop computer.  Three posts had already been made before six AM about the plundering in West Pea Ridge.  People were shocked to get into their cars to head to work, only to find their vehicles ransacked with items missing from them.  Harley just shook his head, "Just another night in Huntington", he thought.

 

Charlie Mills had a restless night sleeping.  It was long after he finally got to sleep around five AM, that the alarm went off at six.  He got up and went to the home computer in his den.  He checked his messages and web site.  He checked Facebook and noticed the posts on The Huntington Crime Alert page about the plundering in West Pea Ridge.  It had been fifty-eight hours since he had heard from his son.  If he was not found by the afternoon, he decided that he would go to police headquarters and file a missing person’s report.  He knew his site was large and that Harley's was large as well, and together almost everyone in and around Huntington would see it.  He made a quick post with Bradley's picture and messaged Harley and asked him to share it.

 

The game plan for his day definitely included finding Kim Hines.  He had a feeling she would know Bradley's whereabouts.  There was not much that Kim did not know about what went on in Downtown.  Checking out The Bando also topped his agenda.

 

The early results of his Facebook posts did not surprise him.  His post on his own Recovery Man page drew support and prayers.  The post on Huntington Crime Alert had a few posts that called Brad a druggie and Charlie a hypocrite.  Harley eventually came on and said he would delete any post bashing Charlie, but he never mentioned anything about bashing Bradley.  One member questioned why Charlie was concerned.  He posted that he knew Bradley and that he was a tweaker who would get cranked on ice and stay gone for days at a time.

 

Amy Mills had just gone to sleep.  She was scheduled to work at Bateman Hospital at 11PM so she slept in the day to stay on her sleep schedule.  About eight AM, Charlie climbed in his Equinox to head toward Dunkin for donuts to hand out to homeless he knew in the alley and then Four and a Half Alley where he hoped to find answers on Bradley's whereabouts.

 

As the Recovery Man entered the Dunkin on Fifth Avenue, he encountered a couple of acquaintances who asked about Bradley and offered their prayers.

 

Charlie scoured the alleys around Marshall University looking for Kim Hines on her daily trek of checking dumpsters for treasures she may find to trade or sell for drug money.  He passed by The Bando.  He saw a man with a weird haircut and mutton chops walking out to a blue Chevy Malibu.  Charlie thought to himself that the man resembled Wolverine of the X-Men.  He pulled into the lot and parked next to the Malibu.

 

Charlie jumped out of the Equinox with a picture in his hand.  He shuffled over to Wolverine and said, Excuse me, Sir.  I'm looking for my son.  He has been missing for a few days and I have heard he has been coming here."

Wolverine had just switched into a Superman t-shirt that he picked up on the stolen credit at Wal-Mart a few hours before.  He looked at the picture and it was exactly who he thought it would when he was approached by the father.  Of course, Wolverine was not going to tell the man that he stabbed his son to death with the knife in his pocket and crudely buried him with a boy who overdosed in a wall in the basement.  Instead, he looked at the picture and blankly said, "Sorry, Bub, I've never seen him before.  I haven't been around long.  Just passing through.  I'm heading out now for Tampa."

 

Charlie was visibly disappointed, he was certain the man would know something.  He said, "Thanks.  Here is my business card...if you see home, please call.  He's probably somewhere around here.  Tell him his mom and dad are worried."

 

Wolverine stuck the card in his pocket and responded, " Like I said, I'm on my way to Florida.  I just found this house, it was cheaper than a hotel.  I will probably never be back.  Good luck finding him."

 

Charlie offered the man a donut and the man accepted a glazed one.  Charlie pulled out a powdered sugar white cream filled donut for himself although he realized Amy would rip him for raising his sugar.  The added stress was reason enough for him to eat some comfort food to relax.  He smiled to himself and thought, "Better for my sugar to be high than to stroke out from the stress.

He was going to search for Kim a little longer.  He thought about going by Harley's to see if he Harley had gotten any information through his site.  Charlie was not sure if he wanted to see him because their relationship was rather awkward at the moment.  Charlie had heard from a couple of charities that Harley had raised money through his site for that Harley had never given them the money.  Both places combined was over a thousand dollars.  Charlie felt obligated to question Harley about the money but just did not think with Bradley missing that it was the right time to stir up any more trouble.

 

The Equinox careened down Four and a Half Alley until he reached Tenth Street.  At that point, he steered down to Three and a Half Alley and started driving back toward Marshall University.  The SUV had almost reached Marshall, when he finally spotted Kim Hines at a dumpster behind an old house turned into an apartment building behind Fourteenth Street.

 

When Kim Hines recognized who it was driving the vehicle, she went storming toward the car.  Kim started yelling, " Do you know what your son and his asshole friends did to me last night?"

 

Charlie got excited and cut her off as he blurted out, "Whoa!  Hold up!  You saw Bradley last night?  He has been missing for over two days."

 

She put her hands on her hips and yelled, "They almost ran into me.  They hit my buggy with their car and knocked me straight on my bony ass!"

 

Charlie felt a tinge of relief as he sighed and asked, "When and where was this.  what were they driving and who was he with?"

 

Kim shrugged slightly as she answered, "I'm not sure exactly what time it was but it was around midnight.  He was with that little whore Sandy and her husband Ronnie.  Some dorky guy who thinks he is Wolverine was driving a blue Chevy Malibu.  They shot out of the parking lot by The Bando where I saw you yesterday."

 

Suddenly, Charlie's heart sank through his heart into his stomach.  This just could not be, he thought.  He gasped, "That guy lied to me.  The guy with the mutton chops, I just saw him getting into the blue Malibu at The Bando.  I showed him a picture of Bradley and he said he had never seen him before."  A feel of sudden dread fell over Charlie Mills.    He suddenly felt cold and could not stop shaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        CHAPTER 5

 

 

Sandy Dixon sat on a green park bench at Harris Riverfront Park overlooking the murky Ohio River.  The noon day sun was beating down on her but the gentle wind cascading off the river kept the sun bearable.  Still, sweat was running down her face and merging with the tears.

 

She was shaking almost uncontrollably.  A steady stream of ice and heroin had entered her veins since right before the sharp blade of Wolverine's knife took her lover away from her forever.  No matter how much drugs entered her body,

it could not numb her pain.  She looked down at a needle loaded full of fentanyl.  It was on her lap right beyond her trembling fingers.

 

Her mind which had not slept for days, taunted her, "Why didn't I realize I loved him so much until he was gone?  His soft touch when he comforted me...his gentle kisses on my forehead.  No one ever listened to me like Bradley...not even my husband Ronnie.  Bradley knew the real me.  He knew the me I could be without drugs.  He loved me like no one ever loved me...and I watched him die."

 

She tried to blame the drugs.  She tried to blame her guilt over cheating on her husband.  She tried to blame a lot of things for not ever confessing to herself how much she loved Bradley Mills.  Now there was no denying she loved him.  Now that he could not whisper "I love you" in her ear or how much she deserved a better life than she had or that he could give...she could not deny she loved him.  She denied it for so long but now the wall was down.... now there was only a huge divide.  Only one bridge could cover the divide.  The bridge was just beyond her fingertips.

 

Bradley's body was buried in a makeshift wall in the basement of The Bando.  His spirit cried out from the depths of the river.  If only she had realized how much she loved Bradley Mills, then they could of disappeared in the blue Malibu...away from Ronnie...away from the drugs...away from The Bando where Bradley now was buried.  

 

There was only one way for Sandy to be with Bradley...only one bridge.  Her trembling fingers picked up the rig.  She plunged the rig into her arm.... she followed the bridge to Bradley...the bridge across forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                 CHAPTER 6

 

 

Brooke Mills had recovered from her overdose but a day later she was being plagued by withdrawal pangs.  She did not want her parents to realize how bad she was withdrawing because she had lied about how much she had used lately.  She acted like yesterday's overdose was her first relapse in a while.  The truth was she had used several times over the last two weeks.

 

There was a knock on the door, and she looked at the clock on the wall to see it was exactly twelve noon.  She knew her mother worked later that night and did not want the knocking to wake her, so she grudgingly got up and answered the door.

 

She briefly flipped her hand through her door and straightened the gray t-shirt with 'Recovery' written in green letters across it.

 

She opened the door and with her first look she just saw muscles.  With a quizzical look on her face; she focused closer to see the muscles were tanned and protruding out of a a bright green tank top.  The man was only about five foot nine but had a bodybuilder's physique.  His arms ripped and huge.  Brooke's eyes were stuck on his arms and shoulders.  She was so fixated on his upper torso, she did not recognize him.  When she finally concentrated on his big nose and curly black hair, a funny look came across her face.

 

" Vince? Vince Boyd?" There was doubt in her voice, but once she got a good look at him, she realized who he was.

Vince Boyd was an old friend of hers and Bradley that she had not seen in about four years.  There were definitely some big changes during that time.  She always looked at Vince as just a friend, but she was not too sure what the thoughts were racing through her mind now.

Vince removed the dark sunglasses he was wearing and said, " Brookie!  You are sure a sight for sore eyes.  It has been a few years, but those eyes are still just as blue."  Vince always had eyes for Brooke, but he was three years younger and back in school that was a big difference.

Brooke realized she was just staring at him with a confused look and decided the polite thing to do was invite him in as she said, "Sorry, I don't know where my manners are but come on in.  I haven't been feeling well and have been just lounging around in bed."

 

Brooke led him into the modest living room and offered him the maroon recliner as she sat in a maroon chair next to him.

 

Vince sat down and looked at her.  He thought she was a little skinnier then he remembered but she was maybe prettier even though she was pale and obviously not wearing makeup.

 

He made himself comfortable in the awkward silence between them and leaned forward in the chair.  "Well, I have really been meaning on stopping by and catching up with the family, but you know how real life goes."

Brooke realized she was staring at his arms again and blushed, "I'm sorry you just look so different.  I can't get over how big you are. “ She felt awkward again and blushed.  "I mean not in a bad way...definitely not fat.  You know what I mean", she giggled like a school girl and touched his arm.  She smiled and added with another giggle, "I'm not drunk if that's what you are thinking."

 

Vince laughed and said, "Actually, I get that all of the time from people we went to school with.  It is a good feeling, though.  I have put a lot of work into myself the last few years.  I am just glad people notice."

 

Brooke laughed and squeezed his arm closest to her and said, " Well, of course they do.  You went from looking like a little boy into Mister Universe.  Wow, look at them guns."  She shoved him playfully.  " I' m sorry if I'm embarrassing you.  I just haven't had much fun or much of anything lately.  It is really good to see you.  It brings back lots of good memories.  It's really been a tough week...a tough month...a tough year."

 

He looked at her with an empathetic smile and held her hand.  He stared into her eyes and said, "That's what I heard.  I saw your dad's post on Facebook today that Bradley was missing.  That has to be scary.  I want to help."

Brooke was surprised, she was so used to Bradley popping in and out that she forgot that her dad was getting worried last night.  She said, "Oh yeah.  I hadn't seen anyone this morning, I guess they still haven't found him.  It’s just that he is never here so I feel like that maybe he is just into something.  I still think he will run in here any minute."

Vince smiled, "He always was a wild one...very hyper.  I guess he never calmed down.  We used to smoke a lot of weed back in the day...Bradley and I."

 

Brooke smiled, still holding his hand.  "How could I forget?  I was there a few times.  I was the sophisticated, older woman who laughed as you little kids took a hit and ran around on all fours barking like dogs."

 

Vince grinned, " Those were the days.  It got worse for me after that.  A lot of people argue that pot isn't a gateway drug, but it was for me.  I guess I always wanted something strong.  I went through the gates until I ended up a heroin addict.  I got skinny...died a few times."

 

Brooke shook her head and said, 

"Been there, done that.  Died yesterday...as a matter of fact."

Vince said softly, " I noticed the track marks.  I could tell by your eyes you aren't feeling very well.  I thought maybe you were withdrawing."

Her mouth flew open wide and she gasped with a laugh, " Oh my God.  Do I look that bad?"

 

He grinned as he tightened his grip on her hand and leaned forward.  He said in a serious tone of voice, " You could never look that bad.  You are as breathtaking as you ever were.  And believe me, I dreamed about you a lot.  I was too young and shy to say it, but you were my fantasy then."

Brooke teased and playfully hugged him as she purred, " You used past tense.  You mean I’m not anymore."  She playfully put her hands on her hips and mockingly asked, "You don't want me anymore?  Is there another woman or did lifting all those weights go to your head?"

 

Vince rolled his eyes and asked, " How could I forget someone as beautiful as you?  Besides, it was your dad that saved my life.  He recognized my problem.  He got through to me.  He sat with me when I was sick.  He got me in Recovery Point.  He checked on me.  He helped me believe in myself again.  He is a great man."

 

Brooke pulled out a Marlboro Black 100 and lit it.  she puffed on it quietly and then said in a low voice, "I wish he had that patience with me when it comes to drugs.  He just yells at me and threatens to get a mental hygiene on me."

Vince shook his head and said, " I'm sure it is harder for him to deal with someone he loves.  You know you are that man's world.  He was always talking about you or Brad."

She climbed over to the recliner and sat on his lap.  She put his arms around him and purred, " Now, Mr. Muscles, you never did answer me if there was a Mrs. Muscles...I mean...Mrs. Vince?"

 

Vince shook his head and said, "Been concentrating on myself.  Trying to get myself right.  I reckon my recovery has been going pretty well.  I guess after a few years I can probably start looking for the right woman.  I am assuming there isn't a Mr. Brooke, right now?"

 

Brooke was twirling her hair with her finger and just should her head "no".  She started rubbing his shoulders.  She was totally fascinated by the physical transformation that Vince Boyd had undergone.

Vince looked right in her eyes as he enjoyed the massaged.  He let out a joyful groan and asked, "How about this?  How about I help you concentrate on recovery.  We can go to meetings together and make sure each other stays clean.  Then, when the time is right, maybe we could go on a date?"

 

She smiled and thought for a moment.  She took another draw off of the cigarette and asked, "Okay.  Why was you here again?"  She knew why he was there, she was being playful.  Suddenly she did not feel as bad as she had since her overdose.  She added, "I'm sure you didn't wait four years to pop in and ask me on a date."

 

Vince grinned and said, "Your dad made a post on his page and The Huntington Crime Alert page that Brad is missing.  He said it has been over two days.  Everyone is sharing it so just about everyone in Huntington knows about it.  We are all old friends plus I owe your dad my life, so I came over to see if there was anything I could do to help."

 

She stood up and said, "Well, Mr. Vince since you came riding in on your white horse to play the hero, the least I could do is play the damsel in distress."  She smiled and bowed down to him and asked, "Mr. Vince, can you please help me find my dear brother?"

 

Vince stood up and took her hand and in a goofy voice, he said, "Why yes, Maam, I'd be much obliged to help you find Bradley."

 

With a silly look on her face, Brooke beamed, "Well, my white knight has finally come riding in on his white horse.  Well, I guess you are really tanned.  You are my tanned knight.  My tanned knight on a white horse."

Vince corrected, "Actually I am in a black Silverado pickup.  I'm your tanned knight in a black Silverado."

 

 

                                          CHAPTER 7

 

 

Charlie Mills shook from an adrenalin rush as he waited in the lobby of The Huntington Police Department for his longtime friend Captain Randy Preece.  Charlie and Randy played basketball and softball together in their younger days.  Randy was a pretty big man at around six foot five, but his waist had expanded a bit as well since his ball playing days.  His head was now completely bald.

 

He approached Charlie with his hand extended and a smile on his face.  As the two men shook hands, the police captain said, "You are looking good, Charlie.  It's always good seeing you but I'm sorry to hear the circumstances why.  They just told me you are saying your boy is missing?"

 

Charlie shook his hand although his was still shaking and replied, " It's been about three days now.  I always hear something from him, but I am getting worried."

 

Randy scratched his chin and asked, "You haven't been to get a hold of him on the phone?  Is his Facebook active.  Have you tried to contact him there?"

 

Charlie shook his head and said, " He doesn't have a phone or Facebook.  What has me worried is a person told me they saw him last night in a car.  I approached the person he was with and they hadn't seen him."

Randy put his hand on Charlie's shoulder and said, "Whoa, Buddy.  Slow down.  You are talking in riddles.  First of all, if someone saw him, then he isn't missing."

 

" Something isn't jiving.  I think that guy may have done something bad to him. Brad has been hanging at a place they call the Bando on fifth avenue."  Charlie was talking faster than usual and was even getting himself confused.

 

Randy said in a calm voice, "Secondly, we know Brad well at HPD.  He does tend to run with bad people.  I'm sorry, Charlie, but we both know your son's history.  Have you checked Lawrence County Jails or St. Mary's Hospital?"

 

Charlie had not expected this from an old friend.  He thought for a moment and said, " Listen, I know Bradley has his issues, but he wouldn't worry his mother and I like this on purpose."

 

Randy said, "Three days is not really that long if he is running around on meth.  Or he could be sleeping one off."

 

Charlie was dumbfounded, "How did you just determine that my boy is on meth?  How did you just jump to that conclusion?"

 

Randy wiped his brow and said, " Listen, Charlie...we have known each other for ever.  I shouldn't have to sugarcoat this.  You work with addiction.  If one of your clients said this, what would you think?"

 

Charlie was frustrated and sighed, " Of all the people here at the station, I would have thought for sure that you would have been the one guy that would help me out."

 

Randy answered, " Charlie, I will help you, but I am not sure what you want me to do.  Tell me some kind of details."

 

Charlie was clearly frustrated.  He sighed, "Brad was seen pulling out of the alley behind The Bando on 4 and a Half Alley.  it's that abandoned house on 5th by the bus station.  He was with a guy and girl and a guy driving looked like Wolverine from The X Men.  They were in a late model blue Chevrolet Malibu. I went to The Bando this morning and saw the Wolverine guy getting into the Malibu.  I showed him pictures of Brad, but he said he never saw him."

 

Randy was suddenly interested, "There were several reports about a car full of people loaded into a blue Malibu going through some subdivisions in West Pea Ridge last night stealing stuff out of vehicles, yards, and off of porches.  Barboursville police watched some cameras and said there was a guy with a Wolverine haircut and chops. I haven't seen any of the pictures taken but they may have Bradley on camera."

 

Charlie did not care if his son was in trouble again or not, he just wanted to be sure his son was safe.  " I wonder if I can view the tapes?"

 

Randy shrugged his shoulders.  " Barboursville Police has those.  It is their jurisdiction.  They are doing the investigation.  I'll ask.  I am going to send a couple of officers to that abandoned house.  I'll let you know if anything turns up.  The good news is your son isn't a missing person.  The bad news is that he may be a suspect in a string of thefts."

 

 

Charlie left the police department disappointed.  It was good that officers were going to The Bando, but he did not feel that his old friend was on his side.  Charlie still had a bad feeling that his son was in big trouble and not just trouble with the police.

 

Charlie headed toward Fourth Street.  He was not going to sit back and depend on the HPD to find Bradley.  He was back at the drug dealer T's place.  He did not think he would find out any information there, he was mad and disappointed and frankly he just wanted to be an asshole.

 

T answered the door and shook his head smirking.  He said in a dismal expression, "not you again.  Ain't there any more drug users in Huntington to save?  You have to come and hassle me?"

 

Charlie walked right up to the door and raised his chin.  Slowly, he asked, "Have you sold any drugs to my son lately?  I need to find him.  Has he been here in the last few days?"

 

T laughed and threw his head back.  He looked out past Charlie as he paused.  He looked again at him and laughed again as he asked, "Can't you keep track of your own kids?  Do I look like a babysitter?  Do you think I am the only drug dealer in Huntington?"

 

Charlie had a sad look on his face and sighed, "Look, T.  I just want to find my son.  He uses drugs.  There's no since looking at a library or bowling alley.  I need to find him.  The person most likely to have seen a drug user is someone who sells drugs."

 

T exhaled and bit his lip as he said, "I get it, Pops.  You worry about your kids.  I respect that.  I know your boy, but he doesn't buy from me."

 

Charlie shifted his weight as he stood there.  It was easy to see that he was humbled.  He said, "Listen, I am sorry that I stormed in here the other day.  I was in denial.  I didn't want to admit that my baby girl about died, and it was my or her fault.  I wanted to blame anyone but her.  I saved so many people, but I can't even save my own children."

 

T looked at him and did not say anything for a minute and then said, "I feel you, Dog.  I got Brooke's number.  I'll hit her up if I hear anything."

 

Charlie went back to his car.  He did not know where he was going to look next.  It suddenly occurred to him how little he really knew about his son.  He did not have any idea of where Bradley could be except for The Bando.

 

He decided to go to Harley Baker's house to see if the Facebook postings gained any information.  He really did not like Harley much anymore.  He showed Harley how to use social media to spread information, news, and knowledge to people.  He felt like Harley took what he learned and used it to manipulate people, gain political power, attack his enemies and fraudulently make money.  Despite the negative, Harley controlled a mighty tool.  His Facebook group had over twenty thousand members.  The Tri- State was captivated by his combination of erroneous scanner reports and rumors...that is what Charlie called his information.

 

Charlie was greeted on the porch by Harley.  Harley stared at Charlie as the counselor approached the ex-military man.  Harley made eye contact but was otherwise motionless.  Charlie thought Harley was acting strange.

 

Charlie smiled and asked, "I was just stopping by to see if you had any leads about Bradley."

 

Harley glared at him a few seconds and finally spoke, "As a matter of fact I did.  I think we have a few things to discuss."

 

Charlie could easily tell that Harley had something serious to discuss just by examining his rigid posture and stern expression.  He watched the man as he paused.

 

Harley continued talking not breaking his eye contact with Charlie.  " I'm not going to say that you have ever lied to me, Charlie."  He paused and looked away, then resumed eye contact as he spoke.  " I feel like you have misled me or maybe just misrepresented yourself and your family to me."

 

Charlie was dumbfounded.  He could not believe that his son was possibly in danger and this was the reaction he was getting from a man he once called a friend.  Charlie had a bewildered expression on his face as he said, " I misrepresented myself to you.  Are you sure it is not the other way around?  How did I mislead you about my family?"

 

Harley sighed and shook his head and then took a step toward Charlie and raised his voice, "You parade around like you are a leading citizen and you tell everybody how to live your lives but you forget to tell everyone that your son is a convicted felon who breaks into cars for drug money.  Your daughter has overdosed several times and likely shoots up with her mother because mommy dearest - your darling wife - has overdosed several times herself."

 

Charlie was not in the mood for this kind of outburst from anyone, let alone a friend turned apparent nemesis.  Charlie shrugged his shoulders, "Where did this come from?  I have never misled you about anything.  You have always passed yourself off as my friend and now my son is missing and may be lying somewhere hurt and you choose to pick this time to hit me with this bullshit!"

 

Harley let loose a loud chuckle and said, "Your precious baby boy isn't missing.  He is in hiding.  There are all kind of pictures posted in my group of your little boy ripping people off.  Then some nice members of my group were nice enough to post a greatest hit collection of his mugshots.  Your boy has quite a past and all of the times we talked about repeat offenders, you neglected to tell me that you and your wife gave birth to a habitual criminal."

 

Charlie Mills had tolerated about enough of the man in front of him and edged closer prepared to fight.  He clenched his fists and shouted, "Little Angel Harley collecting money for hungry homeless people but the money never quite makes it to where it is supposed to go?  if you aren't a felon yet, you will be soon.  You can act like you are the perfect little patriot to your hordes of followers, but you and I know the truth, don't we Harley?"

 

Harley snarled as his blood boiled, "You get the hell off of my property with your lies! You are damn lucky that you ain't worth wasting a bullet on.  You'll get what you got coming soon enough.  Recovery man, my ass!"

 

 

                                      CHAPTER 8

 

 

Ronnie Dixon stood just inside the basement door of the Bando with the door cracked.  As he peered out into the day, three police cars rolled onto the lot.  Ronnie's mind really was not on his new company.  The man just learned from a couple of visitors that had been at Harris Riverfront Park, that his wife, Sandy, had overdosed and died.  The news really did not surprise or upset Ronnie.  His first thought was "that greedy bitch gobbled up all of the heroin instead of bringing him back some'.  His biggest regret was that he would not have Sandy to bring him back a shot or two every now and then.  On the bright side, when he did come up with some on his own, then he would not have to share.  As far as love, his heart was empty.  Once you accept Master Heroin has the love of your life, there is not much room for anyone or anything else.  The prospect of sex bored him and seemed like work unless some dope could be manipulated through the process.  Eventually, he would find a couple of young girls that would go out and rustle up some dope for him.  For now, he liked the feeling that he was all he had to worry about.  There was to be not any sharing or caring on his agenda for a while.

 

The door was cracked just enough so he could see what was going on.  He thought maybe they were coming to tell him that his wife had died but was not sure how they would have known where to find him.  He had been up for a couple of days now and was just now coming off of the binge that was fueled by the plundering the night before.  He still even had a couple shots of dog food and ice left and he hid that by the door in case the police would happen to search him.

 

Steve Burke was the first HPD officer to step out of his car.  He was an older officer with a dozen years of police service under his belt.  The taller chunky man was closing in on forty and his rapidly declining hairline revealed that fact.  What hair he did have was tinged in silver.  He stood patiently beside the car of the female officer of the three. 

 

Patty Clem was an attractive woman who was older than Steve.  Her jet-black hair was partially credited to a good dye job that paid dividends as she looked years younger than Steve.  She had puffy red lips that consumed most of her face when she smiled.  Her body was definitely her strong point and even her HPD uniform could not hide that from being obvious.

 

 The youngest officer of the three, Royce King, was the last one to pull up and get out of the car.  Royce had only been on the force for a little over a year and a half.  In the time, he had made fans out of many of the female convenience store clerks and female EMS staff that he came in contact with during his shift.  His tanned country innocent smile and stocky weightlifter physique also made a fan out of Patty Clem.  Patty was one of three female officers on the force that could verify that Royce's body was rock hard all over...not just his bulging arms.

 

The HPD officers had several potential witnesses or suspects to talk to as they observed the crowd in the backyard of The Bando.  Steve Burke was looking through the neighboring lots trying to find a blue Malibu, but he did not have any success.  There three young males in their twenties standing in the yard and two more   lounging on the grass and leaning up against the back of the Bando.  Three more young males in the same class were straggling around on the porch.  Steve walked up to the man closest to him.  Roy Burgess was the youngest and skinniest of the three young men.  He was obviously tweaking as he could not keep his hand from shaking although it was obvious, he trying to keep it still.

 

The slightly built Burgess had a dirty white t-shirt slightly stained with mustard and a couple of big brown spots on it that Officer Burke did not even want to speculate on what the brown stains were from or their origin.  Burgess had two buck teeth were a dirty yellow and was missing four front teeth.  Officer Burke guessed to himself that this guy's name was probably Cletus.  When the man handed him his ID like the officer requested, it did reveal his name as Roy Burgess.  Officer Burke thought, “Not quite Cletus, but Roy is close enough.  Still country and still a tweaker."

 

Officer Burke watched his hand shake uncontrollably and asked, "Son, what the hell is up with your hand.  You wouldn't happen to have any more meth on you, would you?"

 

Roy looked at him innocently and, in an effort, to smile without laughing, he said, "Meth.  No meth.  I ain't got no meth, Officer.  I ain't got no kind of drugs on me at all."

Officer Burke frowned and shook his head a she asked, "Now why would that be, Roy?  Did you done shoot them all up?"  Burke motioned for him to turn around and the officer frisked him.  The man was not lying.  The search did not reveal any drugs.

 

Roy smiled wide which revealed his missing teeth as he said, "Why, Officer, what makes you think that I shoot up meth?"  Roy still shook at he laughed at the fact the officer's search came up empty.

 

Burke grimaced like the questioned greatly annoyed him and answered, "Well for one Roy.  It's eighty-five degrees out here and you are shaking like it's December out here.  Another, your arm has enough track marks to drive a train across on and you obviously either regularly use meth or you haven't eaten yet this year.  You are badly in need of a gym membership and several jars of protein shake."

Roy was not sure why he was laughing but he was laughing hard at the officer.  "Well, I guess it doesn't really matter what you think because you didn't find any on me.  So I guess you can't arrest me."

 

"Actually, I can, Roy.  for one, I'm pretty sure you don't own this property and I'm also pretty sure if I checked this grass close enough, I could probably find some sort of drug paraphernalia that has your finger prints on it."  Burke said as he sucked his chest in and tried to look tough.

"I bet you can't," Roy chided him.

 

Officer Burke sighed, "Roy, quit being an asshole.  Don't make this any harder than it has to be.  I'm looking for a couple of guys that I know were here last night.  I am looking for Bradley Mills and a stocky guy who looks like Wolverine from The X-Men.  You help me out with finding these guys and I'll forget all about the fact that all of you are trespassing.  They were here last night in a blue Malibu.  In fact, the car was seen in this parking lot last night and just a few hours ago.”

 

Roy shrugged his skinny shoulder and said, “I don’t know everyone who comes here.  People run in and out all night.  Plus, some stay in the yard.  Some stay on the porch.  Some stay in the upper floors and some stay in the basement.  It’s not a house.  It is a small city.”

 

Royce King looked at the guys sitting against The Bando wall and recognized a familiar face.  The muscular cop made a beeline to the skinny tall blond hair guy wearing an Eminem t-shirt.  He got four feet in front of him and boomed, "Well, if it isn't Roger Stump!  We were looking all over Guyandotte for you last week Roger.  You suddenly decide you wanted a change of scenery?  Get up here for a minute, Rog."

 

The big cop helped him to his feet.  He turned him against the wall and started checking his pocket.  Royce hollered, "Well, Roger, what do we have here?"  Royce had six pills in his hand.  "It looks like some Xanax bars.  Now, Royce, I always thought of you as a meth man," Royce bellowed as her rolled the pills on the tips of his fingers.  "Now, what is this," Royce questioned as he pulled a baggie out of the other pocket.  He continued, "Now, this looks like ice.  This looks more like what I expected to find from you."

"I'm just holding it for someone.  It's not mine.  It belongs to a girl I met at the bus station.  It's not mine.  Like you said, I don't mess with benzos." Roger pleaded with the muscular cop.

Ronnie pulled the door open.  He saw the police were busy talking.  He did not have the slightest idea of why they were there or who they were looking for but the ice he shot up earlier made him paranoid.  He squeezed out the door and snuck around the side of the building and disappeared into Fifth Avenue.

 

Royce King was enjoying his moment of power over Roger Stump.  It was people like Stump who made the HPD officers' lives hard.  Stump was currently wanted for car theft, but his lists of past crimes were into the dozens.  Roger had spent more of his twenty-nine years in jails, prisons, or detention centers than he did in school.  Altogether, he had worn the handcuffs fifty-three times.  He was on a first name basis with most of the police and magistrates.  The crimes were always petty but boiling down under the goofy smile was a rage that always threatened for him to graduate into violent crime.  Lately, he had been thinking about it more and more.  At this moment, he was thinking how he would like to throw a right hook into the hulking officer's face.  But King was too big.  He would jerk the felon into his vehicle instantly.  Violent actions would remain violent thoughts for now.

Royce stepped forward and smiled into Roger's face.  The HPD officer was strutting around and showing off to the female police officer.  He asked Roger, "So what's it gonna be, Rogie?  Do you wanna go down and explain to the magistrate about these warrants and how these pills and ice aren't really yours and you ate just holding them for a friend?  Or do you want to tell me what went on at the big, bad Bando last night?"

Officer Burke walked over and shook his head, "You damn tweakers are just tweaking yourselves to death.  Give this meth shit up and go get a pizza or something.  You guys are skinny as supermodels.  You certainly don't have supermodel teeth but you all really need to eat something."

 

Patty Clem decided to get in on the action and strolled over to Roger.  With her hands on her hips, she purred, "Listen Roger.  It isn't ratting on someone.  We believe that one of the guys in that blue Malibu has been staying here and he could possibly be in danger.  His patents haven't seen him in days and believe he may be in danger.  So just help us find Bradley Mills and you guys can go on back to doing whatever it is you guys do here."

 

"All right," Roger Stump spoke up.  Suddenly, he was up and bouncing around suddenly brought to life by the female officer.  He asserted, :I'm not doing this for the officer dude on steroids.  This is for the lovely lady officer.  That Mills dude ain't in danger and he damn sure ain't being held against his will.  He's here because he's sniffing around Dixon's old lady.  He ain't here now because someone gave ol' Sandy a hot shot at the river today and she's dead.  Truth is ol' Ronnie Dixon probably gave her the hot shot himself because she was screwing Bradley."

 

Paul Rimer, a short skinny twenty-year old with scraggily long blond hair and missing two front teeth, spoke up.  "Ronnie's cool.  He didn't care about that bitch.  She'd let a dog screw her for a half."

 

Officer Burke shot him a dirty look, "Watch your mouth.  There's a lady present."  

Patty chimed in, "The girl is dead, have some respect.  So, when you saw them last night, you saw Ronnie Dixon, Sandy, and Bradley Mills in the Malibu?  Anyone else?"

 

Paul shrugged his skinny shoulders and answered, " I didn't see them.  We were up in the house.  The three I told you about stay in the basement.  I didn't see them last night but when I came in there was a Malibu there and this morning."

 

Patty walked in the middle as everyone had formed a slightly crooked circle.  She looked around at everyone and said, "Has anyone seen a big, stocky guy with curly black hair and beard like Wolverine?   In fact, people have been calling him Wolverine.  He was driving the blue Malibu.  That is who we believe who Bradley is with. They haven't done anything, we want to make sure Bradley is safe."

 

Paul walked over by the basement door.  He pointed as he said, "This is where they have been staying.  The car left around noon, but I don't know who was in it.  I haven't seen any of them today.  The two male officers checked the inside of the building.  After a brief search they came back out empty handed.  

Officer Burke look at Officer Clem and shook his head side to side to indicate that no one was in the basement.  The older cop looked at the squatters and instructed, "If you see Bradley tell him his parents are worried.  Contact us and let us know.  You guys need to round all of your backpacks up and clear the property."

 

Paul walked over to him and reminded him, " You guys said if we cooperated and told you what we knew then we could go back to doing what we were doing."

 

Officer Burke looked stunned as he said, "I can't give you permission to trespass.  You are on someone else's property...that is called trespassing."

 

Royce King looked at Roger Stump and asked, " Surely you aren't going to complain? I have several reasons to give you a nice stay at West Regional."

Roger smiled, "Hell no!  I'm good.  I'll gladly get up out of here."

 

Fayetteville was close.  Everything suddenly looked greener.  The blue Malibu purred down the West Virginia Turnpike.  Wolverine was ready for some rest and relaxation.  Riding the rapids and roughing it was rest and relaxation to Wolverine.  Not only was he not afraid to admit he was a redneck.  He was proud of it.  He was raised in the wild.  Sleeping in abandoned houses and being homeless never bothered him because he had spent many nights as a child and teenager sleeping under the stars.

 

The Malibu was rocking to the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  "That Smell" had the Malibu literally bouncing down the road.  He was rapping and tapping his hands on the steering wheel in unison with the band from Florida when he first noticed the flashing lights in the rear-view mirror.

 

His first instinct was to take the pedal to the floor.  Ice was racing in his veins.  His heart was pounding.  Wolverine was alive.  "Bring it, you filthy pigs!  You ain't taking Wolverine!  He gunned it to the floor.  He quickly found out that a Chevy Malibu cannot outrun a West Virginia State Police car.  Two of them pulled up behind him and he cut hard to the right.  Wolverine could suddenly fly.  The Malibu was airborne.  He finally hit and bounced into the median.  The cops got out of their cars and ran up to the Malibu preparing their stomachs for the gory scene they were about to see.  They peered into the smoking and mangled Malibu.  Instead of moaning and groaning and blood and guts...Wolverine was laughing.  He was laughing hysterically, "Damn, you coppers are right about these seatbelts.  They are real lifesavers!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                             

                             CHAPTER 9

 

Charlie Mills decided to go home around five o'clock.  He had just gotten off of the phone with The HPD and was informed that the search of The Bando did not turn up any information on Bradley's whereabouts.  The captain informed Charlie that officers would make routine stops on their shifts throughout the night in an effort to see if Bradley returns to the Bando.  

Charlie drove around Downtown Huntington and cruised Harris Riverfront Park and other neighborhoods, but he did not find any clues to where Bradley maybe.  He was convinced at this point that Bradley was unable to get a hold of him.  If Bradley was simply hiding out, he would get word to his family that he was safe.  Charlie thought to himself how sitting and worrying about your child knowing that they may be laying somewhere hurt and knowing you cannot help them must be the worst feeling in the world.  There had been many mood changes in the day including anger and sadness but now frustration had given away to a feeling of outright helplessness. 

Charlie was still convinced that The Bando held the clues to Bradley's whereabouts.  He made one more trip down Four and a Half Alley.  He saw two young men and two young women sitting on the porch that he did not recognize.  He continued on down the alley.  He knew Amy would be getting up soon as she had to work tonight so he stopped by Jimmy John's on Fourth Avenue to grab a few sandwiches and headed home.

Vince Boyd was lying beside Brooke Mills in her bed massaging her shoulders and upper back as she drifted off to sleep.  They had planned to join in the search for her brother, but her withdrawals had gotten progressively worse.  She had not had any heroin since her overdose since the prior noon.  His head had never really quit hurting but was now a little worse.  The headache was joined by back and shoulder pain and nausea.  Vince prompted her to try to eat but she could not do it.  No matter what food ideas he tried to entice her with, she just was not interested.  She staved off the effects of her withdrawals with the excitement of seeing her old friend but now the pains were back and worse.

No matter how Vince massaged her back or how she tried to stretch, she was unsuccessful at dodging the pain. Vince was not ready to leave her side quite yet.  He had suffered pain like this when he went through Recovery.  He was going to do everything possible to help Brooke gain her life back.  Her and her brother were old, longtime friends there of his.  He owned her father his life for staying with him during his dark nights and helping him through Recovery.  He had said many times that he would not have made it through Recovery if not for Charlie's patience and determination to stick at Vince's side and help him walk past his demons.  Charlie was there at all hours of the night anytime Vince needed a word of encouragement he could call Charlie.  Vince was determined to pay the favor back by helping Charlie's daughter fight her demons.

Vince would not admit that he was not attracted to Brooke.  Of course, he cared a lot about her.  As a youth, he dreamed of the older Brooke Mills.  But he promised himself that any attempt of forming a relationship would come after she became free of drugs.  He knew it was not healthy to try to form a relationship while kicking heroin.  It would take all of Brooke's focus to get away from Master Heroin.  

Charlie came through the door carrying a bag of sandwiches.  He walked into the kitchen and put the sandwiches on the counter and tore out a Gargantua for himself.  He opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a can of Diet Dr. Pepper and announced, "I'm home with dinner.  Is anyone awake?"  He said it just loud enough that anyone awake could hear him, but he was not trying to awaken anyone.  He had expected Brooke to be feeling sick so her being asleep did not surprise him.

Vince heard Charlie's voice and came out of the bedroom.  Charlie's eye flew open wide and the two men embraced in a hug.  A smile quickly came to Charlie's face as he said, "Vince, you get bigger every time I see you.  I can't tell you how good it is to see you now and to see you looking so strong and healthy."

Vince returned the smile and replied, "I heard Brad was missing and I came right over.  We were going to go help look but Brooke isn't feeling well so I stay here to comfort her.  We have been getting caught up on the past few years and she just finally fell asleep a little while ago."

Charlie shook his head up and down and said, "I knew she would be sick.  I'm sure she told you, but she overdosed yesterday.  I really appreciate you helping her.  This family can really use a friend right now."

"Mr. M, you can count on me.  I rearranged my schedule so I can take the next three days off.  I want to help find Brad but even if we find him tonight, I want to help Brooke enter into Recovery.  I want to help detox her here and then get her in somewhere," Vince said.

The older man stuck his hand out and they shook hands as he said, "If you helped her, it would mean the world to me.  She has been fighting depression and even though I thought we had the heroin problem licked, she started using again to self-medicate for her depression.  With a fine young man like you around, she shouldn't need anything to keep from being depressed."

Amy Mills was sitting on her bed.  She heard her husband come through the door. She decided to walk in and see if he had found Bradley.  She was confident Bradley was just out having fun and tried not to worry about it.  Charlie knew though that she was coming from a place of denial more than confidence.  She tried to put herself in a bubble and tell herself everything would be alright.  Often, this trap led her back to addiction because when things did go wrong, she could not cope and fell back on addiction to subside her denial of the truth.  Charlie was afraid Bradley's disappearance could lead Amy into a relapse.  He did not try to force reality on her.  He was just really hoping a quick solution would come before Amy's addiction was triggered.

Amy was wearing a yellow fruit of the loom shirt and a pair of maroon gym shorts that she used as sleeping clothes.  She walked into the kitchen and was pleasantly surprised to see Vince Boyd.  At first, she did not recognize him because of his tan and new muscular physique.  She shook her head approvingly and said, "Damn, Vince, what the heck has happened to you?  Did you fall into a bottle of steroids or something? she asked.

Vince smiled, "Hello Mrs. M.  I got my nose out of something bad and got my head and heart into something good.  No more drugs even steroids.  All natural.  I eat the right foods and only put positive stuff into my mind and body now."

Amy said approvingly, "Well, we need some of your positive influence around here at Ranch Mills.  Bradley is wasting away into nothing.  you need to drag him into the gym with you and whatever you are eating, you need to cram into his body as well.  In fact, Miss Brooke could stand to put on a few pounds as well."

Vince nodded, "I am going to get Brookie into the gym.  I'm getting her off the food and into the gym.  I've been talking to her all afternoon while you slept.  She's starting to get sick though.  The withdrawals are starting to set in."

Mrs. Mills shook her head back and forth, "I don't even want to think about those pains.  Uhhhhh, heroin pains are the worse.  Even worse than oxies.  I am glad I am past those things.  And you know what, Vince.  I never thought of you being with Brooke because you are younger than her, but you are certainly all grown up and I must say I am quite impressed.  I think all of us would be delighted to see more of you around here.  Including Bradley.  Lord knows he needs someone to show him the light.  By the way, have you all found him yet?" she asked as she turned her eyes on her husband.

Charlie shook his head indicating 'no.'  He did not want to dwell on it yet, but he knew that Amy was going to have to face facts soon.  He was indeed the worrier of the family but only because he was used to dealing with the truth.  Amy seemed like the positive one to an outsider, but she was not that strong and her coping skills were sorely lacking considering she was a psych nurse who trained others how to cope.

 

Charlie knew the other day when she acted to be the strong one that the act was just than an act.  She could act strong as long as she could deny there was a real threat, but soon as it became apparent that danger was lurking, she began to unravel.  He could sense the unraveling was about to begin.  Several hours ago, when she could deny there was not a problem, she denied it.  Now there staring straight at day four without any word from their son and it was getting hard for a rational person to believe there was not something dreadfully wrong.

 

There was silence.  Amy had her head down staring at the floor as she tried to grasp onto the situation.  Charlie tried to observe her without making it obvious.  The strength she had shown when nothing was at stake starting crumbling down in the face of the cold realization that something may indeed be wrong with her son.  The clouds were turning dark and this was not a storm that was going to pass over peacefully.  Her hands started to shake.  Suddenly, she pulled her head back up and made eye contact with her husband and asked, "So what is going on? Where is my son?"

 

Charlie moved into her and held her.  He said, "It all traces back to The Bando...a big abandoned house by the bus station.  The HPD went there but they didn't find any answers.  I'm getting more answers from a homeless girl in the alley.  I need to find Kim Hines.  I don't think she knows where Brad is but I believe she may be the only one to help us find him."

Amy wiped a tear from her eyes, " Just bring my baby home, Charlie.  Bring him home...alive and unhurt."

Charlie kissed his wife and held her tight.  He assured her, "I promise I won't rest until I find some answers."  He held her quietly for a couple minutes.

Charlie looked at Vince Boyd, "I am going back out tonight.  I'll tear the Bando down brick by brick if I have to.  I am going to find my son tonight. If I have to scour every inch of this town tonight, I am going to have some answers.  If the police help me, then great.  If they don't, then I am going to get the answers we need anyway I can."

Vince shook his head in agreement, "I'm with you, Charlie.  If you need me to ride shotgun then you know I'm there.  I'll back you all the way.  Something just doesn't seem right and it's high time we get some answers."

Charlie went over and put his arm around the younger man and said, "You know good and well I appreciate the offer but I'm going to do this on my own.  Not only is Brooke sick but she is in a vulnerable place right now...a very scary place for a user to be.  The slightest thing can trigger Brooke and Amy.  I'd very happy if you could stay here with them and watch over things while I'm gone."

Vince agreed, "You are probably right.  I'd really like to stay and just make sure everything is cool here.  I don't want to sound corny, Charlie...and I know it's been a tough week for you, but something keeps pulling me toward your daughter.  It's just feels like it is meant for me to be at her side.  I have always been crazy about her."

Charlie started to eat his sandwich, "I am solving this problem tonight.  I am finding my son no matter what it takes.  I swear I am not coming home without him.  Amy probably isn't going to go into work tonight so please just stay here and comfort the girls."

Charlie was not quite sure what he was going to do or what was going to go down tonight, he just knew for sure that he was going to get some answers.  He could not keep going on wondering what had happened to his child.  It might not be good news waiting for him, but he was going to find out the answers no matter what the price was.  Tomorrow, Charlie Mills was either going to have his son home or he was going to know the reason why he was not home.

 

 

Vince Boyd walked quietly into Brooke’s room.  It was dark and he was hoping she was asleep.  The last thing he wanted to do was to wake her up.  He pulled out her black computer chair and sat down and played around on his cell phone.  He checked out the different post on the internet about Bradley Mills.  There were several posts by people that called him a junkie and Charlie a hypocrite and suggested that Brad had likely overdosed in an abandoned house.

 

Some of the hatred directed toward Brad and Charlie made him sad.  Brad and Vince were good friends in middle school.  Vince fondly played back the memories in his mind of the pair riding their bikes to Downtown Huntington.  They would ride all over town.  They would ride up to Ritter Park and check out the pretty girls and then ride to Baskin Robbins for ice cream.  They grew up playing Little League Baseball and shoot baskets in Todd Jackson's driveway.  He smiled as the memories played back in his head.  Brooke walked into each memory.  As he remembered him and Bradley watching the Reds played, he would remember Brooke begging them to turn the television to MTV.  As he remembered playing football in Forrest Archer's yard, he remembered the first time he was tackled by a tomboy named Brooke Mills.

 

The more Vince read different Facebook pages about Recovery and crime in Huntington, he could see how divided his hometown had become.  The scanner listeners were upset that they could not even leave things on the porches or in the cars.  They were livid that abandoned houses had become meccas for crime.  The houses like The Bando were ecosystems growing the very fungus that was destroying the city.  Law enforcement were powerless to stop it.  The scanner listeners complained that 'backpackers', homeless addicts, would invade their neighborhoods and while the neighborhood residents tried to enjoy their lives and teach their children the difference between right and wrong and how to be a good citizen; the backpackers would bring drugs, prostitution, theft, and violence right into their neighborhoods.

 

The City Government would instruct the police to take a step back because the bigger picture is that the backpackers were sick.  The City administration would use all of the resources to bring them back to life if they overdosed.  They would put them in hospitals because they were sick instead of jails because they broke the law.

 

Vince was a recovered addict so he could see the rationality behind treating the sick.  But Vince could also see differences even within families.  The Mills were a good example.  Brooke was sick.  She wanted and needed help.  Vince believed with the right help, she could get better like him.  Then there was Bradley

  Bradley had been in and out of hospitals and jails.  The fact was simply that Brad did not want to quit.  If Brad Mills were to get arrested and sent to rehab, more than likely he would sign himself out and get high again.  Quite frankly, Brad was not sick, he just liked to get high.  Forced effort to get Brad recover would just mean wasted money.

But the city administration did not see it as wasted money.  They needed the statistics to get grant money.  The grant money funded more clinics.  Grant money funded a new industry.  A new industry called Recovery.  The industry offered six figure jobs to those driving nice cars enticing addicts to go to rehab in Florida or enter their recovery homes.  Suddenly, those working in Recovery were driving nicer cars than the drug dealers.  And when residents asked how this could be, the administration looked away and instructed the media to write another story on how the guys driving the cars and living in big houses were heroes 'saving' the city.

 

Stories of recoveries fueled Facebook pages and grant money rolled in but people were still dying, needles still littered the streets, and cars were still being broken into.  The police were still playing catch and release (thanks to the courts) and rehabs were revolving doors.  The difference was that at least now there were other people besides drug dealers counting money.  No need to raise the city fees and taxes...just get another grant.  Someone steal your car? Just another price for living in Huntington.

 

There was so much more to this story than even Vince could imagine.  Sandy Dixon took some secrets to the great beyond when she passed away.  Just weeks ago, she was hauled down to the police station for stealing a car, much the same way Brad Mills had done.  The difference is Sandy was on camera stealing the Honda Accord.  A camera at a nursing home down by the river revealed her ditching the same car the next day.  Other cameras showed her walking away.  But when she was finally hauled in to discuss that theft and others...the conversation changed.  The talk with detectives became a conversation about where one could find drugs and ended with her showing where to buy them.  The recording led to a small bust.  The people who were arrested were just runners and not the dealers.  The runners plea-bargained and went through the revolving door.  The bottom line is Sandy got away with stealing a car and continued her nightly plundering to support her drug habit.

 

So the way of life in Huntington is the real criminals slip in between the revolving doors and the catch and release judicial system.  To state it simply...if you live in Huntington....make sure you have full coverage insurance.

 

What Vince really respected about Charlie Mills is that Charlie was not doing it for money or glamour.  Charlie was on the front line in fighting the epidemic.  He did not broadcast when he got a user into rehab or tell how he shot a dying man with Narcan until he breathed again.  Charlie did not have the fancy car or big house.  Charlie paid the bills and that was about it besides getting up each day and try to pick up the fallen.  They do not give out trophies for that and he would not want one...that was just who Charlie was and one reason why Vince respected him.

Brooke moaned and lifted her head up slightly in a feeble attempt to look to see if Vince was in the room.  Vince noticed and immediately spoke up, "Brookie, are you okay?"

 

She groaned, "Oh God.  I forgot how bad withdrawals are.  I feel like I am going to puke but can't.  God, I wish I could puke.  I'd probably feel better."

 

Vince kneeled by the bed and started rubbing her back and neck.  He said softly, "I'm going to be by you as you get out of this hell.  I know the pain sucks, but I've been where you are and found my way out.  I'm going to show you the way.  You aren't going to have to go through it alone."

 

Brooke shivered and whimpered, "I am just so cold.  So, so cold."

 

 

Charlie had started his Equinox in his latest quest to find Brad when his cell phone rang.  He answered and recognized the voice on the other end as HPD Captain Randy Preece.  Charlie's heart raced.  Randy said, "Charlie, I wanted to call and apologize for our conversation today.  I started to think about it and I believe I may have been a little rude.  Have you heard anything from Brad?"

 

Charlie was a little disappointed that this was not a call saying they found his son.  Charlie responded, "No.  Not a word, Randy.  I am heading back out to look around."

 

Randy paused and said, "Well, be careful.  I know it is hard to sit and not do anything.  We do have people looking for him.  Our officers talked to some guys at the abandoned house on Fifth.  It didn't turn up much.  We have also asked around town and found a few things out.  Does the name Sandy Dixon mean anything to you?"

 

Charlie was a little relieved as he was happy The HPD was taking some interest in the case.  Charlie answered, " Yes and no.  I know very little about her."

 

Randy paused again and continued after a few seconds of silence.  "She is a little married girl that your boy had the hots for.  She was married to Ronnie Dixon.  They are a couple of users that stay at the housed called The Bando.  I use the past tense in marriage because Sandy's body was found today at Harris Riverfront Park."

 

Charlie was very interested.  He blurted out, "Let me guess.  She overdosed?"

 

Randy answered, "Yes.  They believe it was an overdose.  It is believed that Sandy and her husband were with Brad on a crime spree.  Several things were reported missing in  Pea Ridge and Barboursville out of vehicles and off porches.  There are several pictures of them from cameras and they used stolen credit cards at Walmart and there is security camera footage from them there.  And there is another guy.  I believe you told me he looked like Wolverine?"

 

Charlie answered quickly, "Yes.  That was the guy I talked to this morning outside the Bando.  He was getting in the blue Malibu."

 

The police officer responded, "His name is Lester Cane.  He has about thirty prior arrests.  He was apprehended by The West Virginia State Police a short time ago outside of Fayetteville, West Virginia.  He was spotted in the Malibu and fled.  He wrecked and they got him.  He is in a hospital now but denies ever seeing your son.  But we have pictures of them together so that obviously isn't true."

 

Charlie turned off the car.  He sat on the phone and stared ahead not focused on anything.  He was trying to find something positive to hang onto from the officer's words.  He was thinking that it did not sound good.  He asked, "I know you don't want to speculate but we go back a long way. what do you think is going on."

 

Randy paused.  He knew Charlie was a good guy and was facing a difficult situation.  He knew Charlie knew what went on the streets of Huntington, so he did not have to sugar coat things for him.  "The facts are that four people were together engaging in illegal activities.  One is now dead, one has been arrested and two are missing.  The good news is he was just seen last night so you know he is probably okay.  The bad news is we will arrest him when we see him."

 

Charlie did not have a problem with him being arrested.  He always thought if he was guilty, he should be punished.  He still could not believe that Bradley would not find a way to contact them to let them know he is okay.  Charlie had to ask, " Do you think he is safe?"

Randy did not feel comfortable about answering that question.  He paused and said, " Well, Charlie, I know you want something positive to hang onto, but you know the game.  He is with bad people doing bad things.  He is not a little kid egging the mean neighbor's house anymore.  He is hanging with ruthless drifters doing drugs mixed with fentanyl.  out of four of them, one is dead, and one is in the hospital.  You'll have to find your own positive out of that.  Your son has not been very safe ever since he started shooting all of these drugs for a living.  I mean, this is what you do for a living.  You find people who are on drugs like your son and you get them off of drugs.  You knew what he is doing, and you know the answer to your own question before you even asked it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                          CHAPTER 10

 

Charlie went through McDonald's drive-through window and bought six cheeseburgers to give to anyone hungry he saw in the alleys.  The thought of anyone going hungry hurt him deep.  Sure, the people in abandoned houses and diving in dumpsters were people and they needed to eat.  He was in 4 and a Half Alley and almost to The Bando when he spotted Kim Hines.  He pulled up beside her as she pushed her overflowing buggy of her prizes she found in dumpsters.  As she shoved them over the potholes, the buggy flew up and hit her in the knee.  "I wish the city would fix these damn potholes" she bellowed as she saw that it was Charlie driving.  She was so excited the L &M cigarette that was dangling in between her lips fell out.  " Oh my God, Charlie...it's you.  Where have you been?  I've been looking everywhere for you."

 

Charlie was just as excited to see her.  He flipped her a cheeseburger and she instantly began ripping the yellow wrapper off of it.  "I've been searching all over for you.  I gave you my card you should have called me if you needed me," Charlie said.

 

"You know I can't hang on to anything.  Well...by looking at you and the smile on your face, I can tell you haven't heard the word going through the alley."

 

Charlie's heart stop beating a few seconds.  He had a feeling he was about to hear some news that he did not want to hear.  "Uh-oh," he said.  "I guess not."

 

She started to cry and stuck her hand through the open car window and grabbed Charlie's hand as she started to talk.  "I hate to be the one to tell you, but I've been hearing that Ronnie Dixon caught his wife cheating with Bradley and gave them both hotshots and they both overdosed and died."

 

Charlie was unfazed.  He was prepared to hear rumors.  Of course, it was a jolt to him, to hear someone say his son was dead but he prepared himself to hear such things.  While he did have a very bad feeling, he knew most of the gossip from the alley always turned out to not be true, so he was waiting until he saw the body or got the information from the police.  Still he was curious, so he asked, "Was there any information on where this happened or who saw the body?"

Kim took a long hit off of her cigarette and then said, "Ronnie Dixon is crazy.  He is a mean man.  He doesn't care about his wife or anyone.  All he cares about is his drugs.  You have to be careful.  You should let the police look for him.  If he thinks you are out here looking for Bradley or him, he will try to hurt you."

 

When it came to his family, Charlie Mills was not about to be intimidated by Ronnie Dixon or any other man.  Charlie was a nice guy but when his family’s well-being was threatened, he could turn quite ugly.  He handed another business card to Kim and said, "If you hear anything else at all, please call me." His voice then turns softer and he asked, "And how are you doing?  I worry about you.  You are too good of a person to be living like this, a slave to drugs."

 

She appreciated his kind words, but she was not sure she deserved much of anything.  She had not heard a lot of kind words in her life and she learned to associate kind words with manipulation.  She knew Charlie Mills was different.  She saw him as a gentle man and an angel.  Kim Hines believed in Charlie Mills, she just did not believe in herself.  She had been abused by people who said they loved her since she was a little girl, so she became to believe that love and abuse came together.  She believed she deserved abuse more than she deserved love.  She appreciated Charlie's warm thoughts, but she was embarrassed.  She said, "Charlie, even when your world is coming unraveled you are still thinking of others. I’ll be okay.  This is the life I want right now.  I know you can't see it, but I am free of everything that has dogged me my whole life.  Yes, I am enslaved by drugs but outside of that I don't need anything.  People tell me to straighten up and find a man to take care of me.  I have had men my whole life, but they abused me more than they took care of me."

 

Charlie reached out and softly held her hand and said gratefully, "You have really helped me, Kim.  I just want to see you achieve whatever makes you happy.  I feel like I am one of the few people who sees how big of a heart you have.  I want to see you happy."

 

The words brought tears to her eyes and she brushed them off and said, "Charlie, you mean so much to me.  You are one of the few that treat me like I am a real person.  I really hope your son is okay.  Please be careful.  You are messing with bad people."

 

Charlie could see The Bando as he headed through the alley.  He did not see any activity there and he really did not expect there to be squatters there with the police stopping by and looking for Bradley.  He was happy because then he would be able to search The Bando for any clues to Bradley's whereabouts.  He brought along a high-powered flashlight in case he had the opportunity to search the place.

 

It was around eleven o'clock at night and The Bando was eerily quiet.  No one was stirring in Four and a Half Alley.  The only sound was Kim Hines digging in the dumpster in the next lot.  Charlie was moving quietly around The Bando looking for an entrance.  The windows were boarded up.  He was not sure of what he was even looking for, but he was sure that The HPD did not conduct a thorough search.  The Bando was a huge structure and Charlie was confident it held many secrets.

 

Charlie Mills was prying at the boards nailed across the windows on the porch.  When he heard a step to the porch creak behind him.  He spun around in time to see the baseball bat collide onto his skull.  He fell back onto the porch.  He did not feel the next two swings.  The last thing Charlie Mills saw was the barrel of a Louisville Slugger.

 

Blood gushed out of his head and stained the porch as his body was drug around the side of the building and into the basement.  Silence engulfed The Bando as it was swallowed by the darkness.  Suddenly there was an explosion from the middle of the building of the back of The Bando, from the inside of the section of the building in front of the porch.  Seconds later fierce flames pierced through the top part of the structure.  Another blaze ignited on the right side and The Bando erupted into a volcano of flames.  Smoke burst into the darkness and alerted the Tri-State of the inferno.  Flames jumped from the middle of The Bando toward the left side of the building which threatened to spread the blaze onto the white apartment building next door.

The block surrounding The Bando resembled a war zone.  The burning Bando lit up the night.  Screams and sirens shattered the peaceful serenity of the evening.  The Bando had survived two previous fires but this one had already gutted the middle of the huge building. 

The Huntington Fire Department was on the scene as quickly as possible.  Thomas Morgan's eyes widened when he saw the flames taunting him from down the street.  He was driving the first fire truck that was on the scene.  He jumped out.  Two other trucks were right behind him.  EMS and police started spilling onto the scene.  First responders started evacuating the surrounding buildings and began to gear up to fight the fire.

The scene had become all to familiar to Huntington residents.  Another abandoned house on fire in Huntington was not a big surprised, but the size of the flames and the danger of the fire spreading onto the surrounding apartment buildings was a spectacle that brought local residents clamoring to watch.  The heat rolled out into 4 and a Half Alley in droves.  Thomas Morgan and Ricky Sargent led the attack as the HFD sprang into action.  The smoke and the brightness from the fire could be seen throughout Huntington and across the river in Ohio.  The Bando was going out in a blaze of glory.  The HFD fought valiantly to contain the fire to the abandoned structure.  Sparks leaped on the apartment building to the left.  The HFD and HPD searched desperately for the owner of the Equinox to move it out of the way so fire trucks could draw closer.  Fireman Tim Scarberry recognized the Recovery Man sticker on the Equinox.  He knew immediately who he was looking for.  He knew who the recovery Man was.  The young fireman who himself had been led through recovery by Charlie Mills was trying to figure out why the counselor was on the scene of the fire. 

Scarberry wiped sweat from his bow as he turned to Huntington Police Officer Royce King, "Why in the hell would Charlie Mills car be in front of an abandoned building that was on fire.  He doesn't live around here anywhere."

King was immediately stunned and felt a sick spot in his stomach.  He asked in a low voice that Scarberry could barely hear above the roar of the fire, "Are you sure that is Charlie's car?"

Scarberry shook his head and replied.  "No doubt.  I know him well.  I rode in that car many times.  See the Recovery Man sticker.  That is the name of his website.  But why would the car be here.  I don't see him."

Royce King knew at that moment that there was a casualty to this fire.  He knew exactly why Charlie Mills was at The Bando.  He was looking for his son.

Royce stared at the blaze and asked," So do you like Charlie Mills?"

The fire fighter was puzzled by the question and responded, " Yes...definitely yes.  He's a good man."

 

Royce King said, " Well, you better say a prayer.  This isn't another abandoned house fire.  This is a murder scene."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                   CHAPTER 11

Vince Boyd had dozed off next to Brooke Mills when an alert on his phone woke him up.  A little dazed, he picked up his phone from in front of him and curiously observed it.  It was a breaking news alert from his WSAZ News 3 app.  It did not quite register with him at first, but it said a local abandoned house was on fire.  He put the phone back down, but the alert played in his mind.  After a couple of minutes, he picked the phone up and read the alert. 

The article stated that an abandoned house on 5th Avenues had erupted into flames and The HFD was on hand to fight the blaze.  He looked at pictures and then realized that this was The Bando.  Charlie Mills had gone to The Bando to look for Bradley Mills. 

Vince leaped up out of bed and onto his feet.  His sudden movement woke Brooke up and she raised up out of bed.  At once, Vince had to decide if he wanted to worry Brooke with the truth.  Vince believed in total honesty and did not want to with hold anything from his friend even though he would like to shield her.  Vince was reading the message again as Brooke looked up at him.  Vince said trying to be calm. “The Bando where your dad went to look for your brother is on fire.  The fire department is trying to put it out.”

Brooke was confused as she had been sleeping longer than Vince and was not aware that Charlie had even left.  She wiped the sleep out of her eyes and asked, “what does that mean?  Is Daddy there?”

Vince was not quite sure what it meant but he had the feeling it was not good.  He answered, “I am not sure.  He left a while ago.  It is almost midnight.”

Brooke grabbed the phone and tried to call her father.  It went straight to his voice mail without ringing.  “No answer,” she said with a worried look on her face.

“I’m going down there right now,” Vince said.  “Do you want to go, or do you think you better stay.”

Brooke got out of bed.  Suddenly, she did not feel very sick.  “I’m going, too. “ She turned on the light to her bedroom and started searching for clothes to put on.  “Did Mom go to work?  I wonder if she has heard from Dad?”

Vince walked into the living room.  Amy had just now began eating the sub that Charlie had brought home for her.  Vince asked softly, “Have you heard from Charlie lately?”

Amy wiped mayonnaise from the bottom of her lip and finished chewing before she answered, “Not since he left.  I guess it has been a little while.  Is something wrong.”

Vince shrugged his shoulders and stuttered, “No- I don’t know – Maybe.  I hate to get you worried, Amy.  I know you have a lot on your mind, but I just got a breaking news story that The Bando is on fire.  Charlie told me he was going there to look for Bradley.”

Amy picked up her phone and dialed Charlie’s number.  Again, the call went straight to Charlie’s voice mail.  Amy tried to keep calm.  She got up and put the rest of her sandwich in the refrigerator and looked straight into Vince’s eyes and said, “I don’t want to upset Brooke but I think I better go see what is going on.  Do you want to stay with her or go with me?”

Brooke heard the conversation as she entered the room and said, “I’m going, too.  There’s no way I could lay in bed and worry about what is going on.  You know Daddy always answers his phone.”

The three quickly jumped into Vince's Silverado and were soon close to The Bando.  The HFD had the blaze under control.  The roads around the abandoned house were. blocked off.  They did not talk much on the way over.  All three were nervous and were fearing the worse.  They parked on Fourth Avenue and cut over to Four and a Half Alley.  The alley was also blocked off by yellow crime scene tape.  Several police cars were on the scene as well as fire trucks and ambulances.  A crowd had gathered behind a couple of restaurants and were gawking at the firemen battling the flames.

 

The three ran immediately through the crowd up to the yellow tape.  Their hearts were beating furiously, and adrenalin was pumping through their bodies.  Amy looked all around the property hoping to spot her husband.  Finally, she saw his Equinox. Amy lost control.  She tried to get under the tape.  Police officer Royce King rushed over and grabbed her.  

 

Royce tried to gently hold her back but quickly found that he had to use some of his considerable strength as he pleaded, "Ma'am, please you can''t come back here!  You must get back on the other side!  It's not safe!"

 

Amy Mills had lost control, she was screaming, "That's my husband's car!  He's in there!  My husband is in there!"

 

Troy Spurlock of The HFD came over to assist the police officer in grabbing hold.  Brooke realized what her mother had seen, and her hands flew to her face as tears streamed from her eyes.  Vince was the last to catch on and then he finally saw the Equinox.  He put his arm around Brooke for both support and to ensure she did not run into danger.

 

Finally, Amy's legs gave out.  She kind of fainted and lost her balance.  The fireman and the police officer dipped down and kept her from landing on the gravels.  People realized what was going on and were starting to watch.  People who knew who Amy and Charlie were figured out why the drama was unfolding in front of them and some started to cry.

 

Harley Baker had been listening on his scanner and rushed to The Bando to see what was going on.  He had met Amy with Charlie before although he did not know her well.  He saw her struggling with the first responders and went to see if he could help the situation.  He could see she was about to pass out and he helped hold her off of the ground.  In a calm voice but loud enough to be heard over the noise of the fire and crowd, he said, "Amy...Amy Mills.  It is Harley Baker.  I don't know if you remember me but I'm Charlie's friend.  Please, try to be calm.  Please.  I want to help you figure this all out."

 

Both Spurlock and Royce King knew who Harley was.  As the head of the popular Huntington Crime Alert page, Harley had become a sort of local celebrity.  Amy stared ahead at the fire although she had quit trying to rip away from the men.  Brooke could not watch.  She tucked her head into Vince's shoulder and was saying a silent prayer.

 

Harley continued to speak to Amy, "I know why you are upset.  I saw Charlie's vehicle as well, but let's not panic.  There has to be a reasonable explanation for all of this."

 

Royce King saw that she was calming down and tried to help keep Amy calm by speaking, "Let's not assume he is in the fire.  He may have walked somewhere else.  Charlie is very intelligent, he would not enter a burning building."  Royce knew there was more to the story.  He also figured that Charlie Mills was lying lifeless inside The Bando.  He was trying to keep her calm.

 

Harley looked at Royce and as both men let go of the woman, he asked, "Has anyone at all seen Charlie down here tonight?"

Royce shook his head 'no' as he tried to keep Amy from seeing him shake his head.

 

Vince stepped up with his arm still tight around Brooke as she started to watch the activity around her and glanced through the crowd looking for a glimpse of her father.  She was not crying now but tears were ready to flow.  Vince looked at Royce King and said, "Did anyone see the fire start.  Did they see Charlie down around here anywhere?"

 

Royce again shook his head 'no.'  He was busy watching the men fight the fire.  They had stopped the blaze from spreading to the apartment building and most of the fire was out as water streamed into The Bando.  The upper part of The Bando was heavily damaged.  The porch area and middle of the building had some burn damage.  The left side and the part by the basement store was singed in some places but did not receive any heavy damage.  The firemen were cautious of entering the building since there was danger of the walls collapsing.  Royce King and several of the officers were aware that there was more to this blaze than just another abandoned house fire.  They knew Bradley Mills had been staying at The Bando and they figured Charlie Mills came to the house looking for him.  The mysterious part was why Charlie would be in the house when it became apparent it was on fire.  Even if he was looking for Bradley, he should have been able to get out once he became aware it was on fire.  Of course, the other obvious question was how did The Bando catch on fire?

 

Harley was still trying to console Amy.  He guided her gently by the arm and tried to guide her from the scene.  He said softly, "My dear, let's go over here and see if we can find him.  With all of this smoke, he may just have wanted some fresh air.  He spied a lawn chair in the next yard and motioned for Vince to help him.  Vince softly took her other arm and the took men walked Amy to the chair.  Vince looked at Harley and said, "Nice to meet you, Harley.  I am Vince Boyd.  I have followed your page.  I am glad you are here."

Harley shook hands with Vince and said, "Nice to meet you, Vince.  If you would not care to keep an eye on the ladies, I am going to poke around here and see if I can find out what is going on and where Charlie is."

Vince smiled, "Sure, I'd be glad to.  Good luck!"  Vince turned back around and put his arm around Brooke who was trying to console her mother.  "I'm sure Daddy is around here somewhere.  Known Daddy, he probably found someone who knows where Bradley is and followed him off somewhere to find Bradley."

Harley started working his way back to the yellow tape.  He was going to talk to Royce King but there was activity around the house.  A couple of EMS people went into the house to assist the firemen.  The EMS had come back out and Royce and two other officers went up to meet them.  Harley stood at the yellow tape and peered in at the house.  He rubbed his chin as he wondered what could possibly be going on.  There was a lot of movement by the porch.  Harley looked back at Charlie's family and they were looking somewhere else.  Harley had his idea what was happening, but he was hoping Amy and Brooke did not have an idea.

Harley watched intently over the next few moments at the EMS brought something out on a stretcher that appeared to be a body.  They quickly moved to the ambulance.  The rest of the crowd noticed this as well as did Brooke and Amy.  The two ladies began working their way to the tape.  Harley watched as Royce King headed out under the tape to his police car.  Harley hustled over to cut him off.  "Royce, was that what I think it was?" Harley asked out of breath.

Royce had a grim look on his face as he continued to move to the car.  At first the officer did not answer but as he reached the car and grabbed the door handle, he shook his head yes.  "It was a body," he said.

Harley raised his eyebrow and asked, "Is it Charlie?"

Royce got into the car and reached toward his radio, "It may be.  We may need you to identify it since you knew him well.  The person's head is so bashed in, it is hard to tell.  It is definitely not a pretty sight.  We do not want the women to see it."

Harley was stunned.  He gasped between his teeth, "You mean the man was killed before the fire?"

Royce was not looking at Harley any longer as he was trying to talk to his dispatcher.  Out of the side of his mouth, Royce King said, "It appears he was murdered first and then put into the building.  It's kind of hard to tell too much right now."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                CHAPTER !2

 

Detective Dakota Woods of The Huntington Police Department looked at himself in the mirror.  "I'll shave in the morning", he said to himself.  He ran a comb through short black hair.  He imagined there was some gray sneaking in on the sides, but as he looked closer, he decided it was not enough to worry about right now.  He felt old late at night.  He was only thirty-two, but he had almost ten years in on the force.  The last couple years had been particularly hard on him.  His cruiser was hit by a driver high on heroin almost three years ago and he still had not fully recovered.  His back hurt in the morning after sleeping at night and his knees ached at night after a long day.

The last few years had been hard on him mentally as well.  The epidemic impacted his city hard.  The officer watched users die on the floor in front of him.  He had come across gunshot victims who died as he struggled to keep them alive.  He witnessed young children wondering the streets barefooted and on their own as their parents were passed out or overdosed.  He watched as pretty girls he went to school with walked the streets and sold themselves to satisfy their urges.  Things were getting better in Huntington but the stress of what he could not control took years from him and put creases on his tanned face.  He was the young golden boy cop who resembled a surfer when he started on the force ten years ago.  He still had his pearly white smile and athletic build, but now he suffered from depression and he was cynical and at times, even bitter.  He had chased thieves and drug dealers relentlessly around Huntington only to see judges and magistrates release them back into the streets for the chase to begin again with a new crime.  Welcome to Huntington where crime never sleeps, and the revolving door never stays closed.  Huntington, where police put their lives on the line in the name of justice only to have the repeat offenders plea bargain their way back out in the name of justice.

The detective had just climbed in bed next to his wife Annie when he got the call.  He had only been asleep a few minutes when he was quickly awakened with the news that a body had been found inside a fire.  It looked like the victim had been beaten in the head before the fire.  Although unconfirmed, it looked like the victim was a well-known local resident and that the local media was going to grasp onto the story.  So now here was midnight shift cop turned detective going back out into the night once again.

Soon, Dakota was standing in front of the Bando.  The fire had been contained and was out except for a few spots where it was simmering down.  The detective was met inside the yellow crime scene by Royce King.  Royce 's shift was about to end, and he was giving Dakota a report of what he knew had transpired.  

"Well, if it isn't ol' Dakota Woods!  Got you out of your comfy bed and back on the midnight shift, one way or the other, huh?"  Royce grinned greeting the detective as he walked up to him.

Dakota rolled his eyes at the cop and then grinned, "I'm so out of practice on this shift, I forgot my coffee.  But then again, I'll be back in bed soon.  I'm assuming there is a crew gathering evidence?"

Royce shook his head indicating 'yes' and turned and pointed at The Bando and said, "Well, around ten thirty we got a call saying this building is on fire.  Of course, they'll inspect it better in the morning when they can see but they believe it started inside the house right behind the porch.  Not sure how yet but it was a scorcher.  Got kind of high and they are worried that some of it may collapse.  This is the third fire for this building so the structure is weak."

Dakota look around at the building and said, "It is amazing that as close as these buildings are that the whole block didn't go up in flames.  This could have been a real dangerous situation...obliviously."

Royce agreed, "Well, there had been a lot of homeless addicts staying here in recent weeks.  Lots of drifters and a few resident squatters because as you see this is a big building.  We have had reports of fifteen to twenty people around here at one time.  Tonight, it was abnormally quiet because there has been an investigation going on involving this house which is called The Bando by the backpackers that come here."

Woods shook his head up and down in agreement and wished to himself he had his coffee as he yawned.  Dakota said in between yawns, "Yeah, I remember this place from when I was on patrol.  We had several calls even back then.  It has always been a good place for them to sneak in and do a shot or do whatever they do."

Royce looked back at the smoke still streaming out above The Bando and said, "Yeah, like most other of the dozens of bandos in this city, these things are now communities.  There are dozens of people coming in and out of here.  Now, a n addict name Ronnie Dixon and his wife Sandy had been squatting in the basement."  He pointed down to the left. "Ol' Sandy, who is a cute little thing gets around.  She was using or screwing or whatever the hell you want to call it - Bradley Mills."

Royce's eyes widened, "That Mills boy...isn't that the Recovery Man's son?"  Now, he was beginning to see why this case might be of interest to the local media.  He could see this case may have several layers."

King cocked his head and half-grinned, "Exactly.  Well, the boy was reported by his dad, Charlie Mills aka The Recovering Man as missing.  This is partially why it wasn't as active tonight.  I've been coming by watching the place looking for Bradley.  But Bradley kind of is and kind of isn't missing.

Dakota shot him a funny look after that comment and asked, "Okay.  You know I have to ask this.  But how is someone missing but not missing?"

Royce pointed at him and chuckled, "I had a feeling you were going to ask me that, sir.  I was kind of pondering that riddle myself.  It appears ol' boy hadn't been home.  He was missing to mommy and daddy, but he was apparently visiting the lovely residents of Pea Ridge and Barboursville because the Barboursville police have a whole slew of pictures of these clowns and another huge idiot who dresses like Wolverine-"

Dakota had to laugh and interrupt him, "Wow! The guy looks like Wolverine from the X Men?  You just can't make this shit up, can you?  Of course, they aren't no drugs involved here."

Royce laughed for a few seconds and paused for another few seconds before shaking his head back and forth and moving on, "Well, as the story goes.  Those four - The Mills boy, the married couple, and Wolfie go on a blitz breaking into cars and stealing things out of yards.  Make some purchases on the way home with credit cards taken from the vehicle.  And- yes - all of this was done in a stolen car taken a couple of days ago in Huntington."

Dakota grimaced and shook his head up and down and commented, "Okay, I am almost afraid to hear what happens next but I am starting to get a picture of it all in my head."

Royce said, "Yep.  That's the background of the story.  Wolfie is out of the picture though because he got busted in Fayetteville.  Well, he made the great decision to try to outrun a few troopers in a Chevy Malibu and wrecked.  He denies knowing any of the others, though."

Dakota smirked, "Of course.  I believe I'd deny knowing them, too."

Royce King agreed, "Well, the girl overdoses and dies at Harris Riverfront Park today so at the time of this blaze, we have two of the four still around.  Bradley, the guy no one has seen for days but shows up on camera and the grieving husband."

Dakota was curious to where this was headed.  "So is the body that was found one of those guys or is it someone else.  Well, being the detective, I am and being told that the media may be interested.  I would have to venture a guess that the body is the recovery guy."

Royce raised his eyebrows, "Ahhh, we have a winner.  Well, another internet guy, that idiot who runs the crime alert page or whatever it is that points out that we don't do our jobs right half of the time and then pats us on the back saying they support us, is down identifying the body.  We believe it is Charlie Mills.  His head is bashed in pretty good.  His vehicle is here, and his family can't get ahold of him.  So, it appears he came down here because he felt we weren't doing our jobs well enough and he ran into someone."

"Obviously, you are talking about the grieving husband, possibly?" Dakota asked.

"Well, either that or he found someone who didn't want to be found."

"You don't think his son did it, do you?" Dakota asked as he raised his eyebrows.

"Well, his head was smashed several times.  More than enough to kill him.  That sounds kind of personal to me.  I'm thinking Papa Mills and Dixon didn't know each other.  Usually there is some sort of resentment or hatred to fuel such an attack.  So, since the boy still isn't anywhere to be found and is apparently still in hiding then we have to assume that he is involved in some way.  Either he did it or he was likely with Dixon and one of them did it."

Officer Steve Burke walked to within ten yards and yelled, "Confirmation on the body.  The guy confirmed it is Charlie Mills."

Dakota looked at Royce and guessed, "Well, I guess reporters will be buzzing around.  Mills is quite active in the recovery community and is a big hit on the internet so people are going to be really interested in what is going on in this case."

Royce agreed, "Well, I've got a few things to do back at the station so I'm going to go on back and leave you to figure this thing out."

Dakota smiled, "Well, I appreciate your help.  I'm going to check with who is down here on gathering some of the clues.  I guess I'll be here a little while but depending upon who is here I may just try to do most of it in the morning. "

Royce waved as he walked away and added, "At any rate, I believe you better go find that coffee.  I've got the feeling you are going to need it.  This crime scene isn't likely to die out anytime soon."  He pointed to where a few officers had gathered with Charlie Mills' family.  

Dakota's stomach sank as he knew what that conversation was going to be about, and he could guess what the reaction was going to be.  He had been the one on many occasions that had to break the news that not any family wants to hear, and it was definitely the worst part of his job to tell a family that a loved one is not coming home.

Detective Mike Ray was standing in front of Amy and Brooke Mills.  Harley Baker stood next to Amy to help support her and Vince Boyd had his arm around Brooke.  They all knew the inevitable news.  There was just not any way around it.  The car had been there for a while and Charlie's phone was going straight to the answering service.  There was a body.  Harley Baker had just walked back with Mike Ray.  He saw the body.  He was going to let the detective speak to the family.  Amy made a promise to herself she was going to be strong for her daughter.  She knew in her heart that her husband was gone.  She felt a void in her heart.  She knew he was no longer with her, but she felt like in a way that he was inside of her.  He was going to help her get through this and find their son.  She was the matriarch of the family now...the leader.  Her family needed her.  She was not going to let them down.

Brooke knew as well.  She was not going to let her mother struggle in her father's absence.  She had seemingly been weak most of her life.  She was depressed and addicted and as much as she did not want to admit -whiny.  It was easy to live with her parents and not face the real world.  Then, she got addicted and became a total alien of the real world.  Not any more...she did not have her daddy to hide behind.  She was going to step up and help her mother stay strong and find Bradley.  Her father would want it this way.  She owed it to him for the easy life she has led until now.  Now, she had a man at her side that she trusted.  He was strong enough to get through the gauntlet of recovery himself and he was going to show her the way.  She was still sick.  Her head and stomach hurt.  Her back was on fire, but she was going to beat heroin.  She was not going to give in.  Her mother and brother needed her too much.  If she gave in, then there was not any doubt that her mother would give in to heroin as well. 

Mike Ray was a very sympathetic man.  He was good at breaking impossible news.  He had very kind blue eyes.  He had short clean-cut black hair and had red cheeks.  He was forty-five years old and looked like the stereotypical nineteen fifties TV father.  One almost expected to see the Beaver come running up to him.  He looked them all straight in the eyes.  As sincerely as possible and without choking up, he broke the news.  Solemnly, he said, "The body found inside the abandoned house that burned down has been positively identified as Charlie Mills.  In addition to the identification, he also had his driver's license and other belongings on him that leave us no doubt who he is.  He was beaten very severely with some sort of club or other blunt object.  There will be an autopsy, but it does look like he was murdered before the body was placed into the burning house or before the fire was set.    There is a lot at this time we do not know.  There will be a complete investigation that will be conducted, and it is already underway.  We know this is a very difficult time for his family.  The Huntington Police Department will be here for any assistance you may need.  We will be in constant contact.  There are many questions that we have, and we know there are many that you may have but it is late.  We know you need your time and privacy to mourn. I did not know him personally, but I know of him and have only heard great things about him.  The detective that will be working the case will be in contact with you tomorrow.  I know this is very difficult, but I know you have much to do so I will excuse myself.  We will find the person that did this.  I can assure you all of that."

Harley looked at the ground.  Vince was holding Brooke very tight and her head was in his chest.  Amy Mills was looking the detective straight in the eyes.  She was holding the tears back.  Her husband was gone and all of the tears in the world was not going to bring him back.  She was going to make sure the person responsible for tearing her heart out was brought to justice.  She did not have any questions now.  There was time for questions and answers, and she will find the answers.  Now, it was all about her family.  It was all about paying tribute to her husband and finding their son.  When the priorities were met, she would ask the questions and help find the answers.  This was far from over.  She was far from over.  Her family was far from over.

 

Mike Powers and Johnny Russo of The Huntington Fire Department were in the basement of The Bando with a high-powered flashlight checking to make sure there were no other fire risks or structural damage.  Mike Powers came across a clump of drywall, bricks, and wood that was thrown together against the wall in a corner of the basement.  On top was a cross and a card.  Powers walked over and picked up the card and said to Russo, "This is kind of strange.  It kind of looks like a makeshift grave.  There is even a card."  He opened the card.  He read aloud, " My dearest Bradley.  Soon we will be united in death.  I will love you for all of time.  Eternally yours, Sandy."

Johnny Russo had a bewildered expression his face.  "What the hell," he said.  "Hey, that means-", he turned to face Powers, but the other fireman was already digging through the grave.  Mike Powers took a step back as he uncovered what looked like a body rolled up in a king size comforter.  "What the hell is this?  It's a body.  It's a dang body buried in this house!"

Johnny Russo looked at him out of the corner of his eyes.  Then, dropped his arms as in prayer and just stood there.  He stuttered, "Th-theres...there's two bodies in that grave."  He pointed art another body.  Both men turn and walked quickly out of the basement.  They saw Dakota Woods checking for evidence in the yard and Russo shouted, "Detective!  I believe there's something down in the basement that you are going to want to check out!"

Mike Powers was blunter than his fellow firefighter as he bellowed, "Bodies, Detective!  There are bodies in the basement.  At least two.  We have a serial killer.  There's a damn serial killer running loose!"

Dakota hustled into the basement as other officers and firefighters heard them call out and came along to see what was going on.  Dakota just stared at the two bodies.  He did not know what to say.  He was stunned.  He gathered his composure and took a look at Bradley's body.  He shook his head as he saw the blood dried on the comforter and the wound.  He looked at the other body and could not tell what the cause was on that body.  Powers handed him the card and he read it.  He stopped after he read it and mumbled, "Charlie Mills' son, Bradley."  The men stared at each other in silence.  Johnny Russo said a quick prayer for the bodies.  They carried the bodies outside. 

Detective Mike Ray came over to see what was going on.  Dakota looked at him and very calmly said, "We just found two more bodies.  Looks like probably the Mills boy and I don't have a clue to the other boy.  He's just a teenager."

Ray was stunned.  "I gotta call somebody on this.  This is big shit.  We are going to have to take this whole house and probably the yard apart.  Three bodies.  All dead before the fire. There's going to be media all over here."

Dakota grimaced, "There already is, Mike."  Dakota pointed to the WCHS and WSAZ vehicles.  He continued, "They've been hear from what I heard, ever since the fire started."

Mike Ray looked at The Bando, "There's going to be plenty more.  This old building apparently has a lot of gruesome secrets.  There's going to be media from all over the country."

Dakota realized that he was not going to get any sleep tonight.  "He really was not even sure of his first moves.  "Three bodies... so far.  We need to get someone who knows Bradley Mills.  The only guy I can think the other body could be is Ronnie Dixon.  That boy looks awful young."  Dakota thought for a moment and then said, "I need a picture of Ronnie Dixon.  Someone find me a picture of Ronnie Dixon.  I don't care if it's a mugshot or a Facebook profile picture.  I need to see what he looks like, I also need someone who knows Dixon ASAP!"

Mike Ray was playing on his phone.  He pondered for a moment and spoke, "Okay.  We are reasonably sure that's Mills.  There was four people on that blitz the other night.  The girl is dead, and Mills is dead.  One guy is in custody.  This body may be another victim and not Dixon... or it's Dixon.  We need to get someone to talk to that boy in custody from the Malibu.  We need to find out what is going on.  Either he killed off all of the witnesses or Dixon is alive, and he did it.  Unless there are more bodies.  I don't know.  Time to pull this place inside out and see what else is here.  Although quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to know."

 

Harley Baker convinced Amy Mills to go home and try to get a little sleep.  Vince had his arm around Brooke and turned to walk to the truck.  Mike Ray walked out of the darkness and startled Brooke who jumped all the way into Vince's arms.  Mike saw that he scared her and apologized, "Sorry about that, I know it has been a very hard evening.  Mr. Baker, I was wanting to talk to you alone for a minute."

Harley was a little surprised and walked away with the detective.  He said, "What's up, Mike?  You seem kind of concerned."

Mike wiped the sweat from his brow, sucked in his lower lip, and said, "Well, Harley.  I know you are a friend of the family.  We found two more bodies in the abandoned buildings.  We believe that one of them may be Bradley Mills.  I wanted to see if you could look and see what you think before we further antagonize the family."

Harley stopped and titled his head.  He said, "Well, Mike, I'd love to help out, but the truth is I don't know the boy.  Maybe their friend Vince may be able to check."

They walked back and Mike gathered the four around.  He said, "We have found two more bodies inside the abandoned building.  There was a letter written to one that leads us to believe it could be Bradley." 

Harley put his arm around Amy for support as she gasped and threw her hands over her mouth.  Vince squeezed tight on Brooke and pulled her up against him.  Mike continued, "I wanted to have Harley do an ID, but he says he has never met Bradley.  Sir, would you be comfortable?" Mike said as he looked at Vince.

Vince thought a minute, "It has been a few years, but I guess he hasn't changed that much."

Amy stepped up and boldly said, "No.  I will do it.  I am his mother.  No one knows him better than I."

They walked over to an ambulance which had Bradley's body in the back.  She stepped up and they pulled back the sheet.  Amy Mills turned white but there were not any tears coming from her eyes.  She looked for a few seconds and then touched his jaw softly.  "What happed to him?"

Mike said softly, "He was stabbed.  His body was in the basement.  It has been a day or two possibly.  We will know later."

She shook her head up and down twice.  "That is my son.  That is my Bradley."  She turned and walked toward Vince's truck.  She was not crying, and she was trying hard to walk firmly.  Harley shuffled his feet to get up beside her and put his hands on her shoulder to steady her.  

Vince and Brooke got in the truck together on the driver side as Vince steadied Brooke.  Harley helped Amy into the passenger side.  He gently took her hand, and said, "I am very, very sorry.  If you need me at all, here is my number.  If there is anything at all I can do, please get in touch with me.  You are a very strong lady, Amy.  I admire that a lot."

She shook her head and smiled in appreciation of his comments.  She said in a shaky voice, "I appreciate you being with us tonight, Harley.  Charlie would have appreciated it.  Be careful.  It is just Brookie and I now... but we have got each other."

Harley waved goodbye and then went and took some pictures of the crime scene that started as a fire.  He went to his Huntington Crime Alert page and posted eight pictures.  He also posted, "Fatal fire on Fifth Avenue is arson.  Three bodies have been pulled out so far.  Out of respect for the families, I will not mention the names of the victims until they are announced by local news media. This is a very difficult time for me as I know one of the victims and his family.  This is going to send a shock wave through Huntington.  Huntington is facing a very tough time ahead in the next few days."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       CHAPTER 13

Ronnie Dixon leaned against a blue dumpster in Four and a Half Alley and watched the activity at The Bando.  The fire was out but the yard was still full of policemen and firemen.  He was wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt that he found in a dumpster farther down the alley.  All of his clothes were in The Bando.  He was dumpster shopping for new clothes.  He also found a black backpack which he sported on his back.  He was homeless again as he considered The Bando his home.

He thought he saw a stretcher loaded onto an ambulance, so he figured the bodies in the basement had been found.  He was leery about getting to close in case he was recognized.  He craved a cigarette.  Even more than nicotine, his body was calling put for dope.  Heroin or ice, it did not matter to his body right now.  It would gladly accept either one of them right now.  The dope from the plundering was long gone.

Sandy was on his mind right now, not because he missed her, but because he never stayed sick too long when she was around.  He realized that not only did he need to find a new place to squat but he needed to find a girl to keep his syringe full.  Now, the immediate task at hand was to find dope money.  He walked out of the alley and onto Fourth Avenue.  His mission was to find a careful of change somewhere.  He walked past Rocco's where the big sign had the lights off.  He walked past the newly torn down Flats On Fourth Avenue which at one time was the biggest abandoned house in town.  He saw a couple cars parked a little further down, but DP Dough was still open, sp more than likely the drivers would be out at any time.

The police and everyone out were preoccupied with the fire, so he knew he had the run of the town.  He worked his way up Sixth Avenue to where many Marshall University students lived.  Even The Marshall University Police were at the blaze, so he was like a shark at a beach on a Fourth of July weekend.  He ran from car to car like a shark gutting a school of fish.  He hid his bounty of tools and other valuables in an abandoned house until the pawn shops would open.  He collect $53.27 in cash.  Soon he was down at Harris Riverfront Park unknowingly shooting up on the bench where his wife died.  He was good for the night.  No more sickness until the morning when he would pawn the bounty from this evening.

 

Wolverine was gawking at Good Morning America from the discomfort of his hospital bed in Beckley.  His spleen was badly bruised and he had suffered three fractured bones in his legs and several other bruises.  He had painkillers to balance it out and it was much more comfortable than jail.  A police officer was stationed outside his door as he was going back to jail soon as his condition improved.

A serious looking West Virginia State Policeman suddenly appeared in the hospital room doorway.  He was tall and slender and decked out in the green WVSHP uniform.  In a booming, clear voice he said, "Mr. Cane, I am Officer Joseph Dutton with The West Virginia State Highway Patrol.  I am here to ask you few questions."

Wolverine laughed, "Mr. Cane, huh?  I wasn't Mr. Cane yesterday when you jerked my broken body out of the wreck

  Call me Wolfie.  I told somebody all I had to say yesterday."  He paused for a moment and then chuckled and asked, "By the way, do you have any donuts?  I'm hungry."

The trooper ignored the donut question and told the injured man why he was there.  "Mr. Cane, there was a fire in Huntington last night at an abandon house you were staying in."

Wolverine winced from the pain and moved around as he tried to get comfortable. He responded, "That's all fine and dandy but I stayed in lots of places, I don't know where you are talking about.  Besides, I was here broken in pieces.  That would be a long hobble for me especially with your guard right outside my door."

The state trooper raised his voice a little and said, "There were three bodies pulled out of the fire.  We think one was done last night so that obviously could not have been done by you, since you were here.  The other two bodies, we definitely think you know something about."

Wolverine rolled his eyes, "Are you guys that desperate to solve a case that you are just gonna throw me under the bus?  What in the hell makes you think I killed two people?"

The trooper moved a step closer to Wolverine.  "Bradley Mills was one of the people you were filmed on camera with in Pea Ridge the other night.  He was also one of the bodies.  We know the four in that little crime spree you guys conducted.  We also know two of the four are dead.  We know that Ronnie Dixon is the other person that was involved.  As far as we know, he is still alive.  His wife is dead, and Bradley is dead."

Wolverine could not believe this.  He acted as if he were amazed, "Now I killed Dixon's wife too, huh?"

The policeman shifted his weight to one leg and took another step forward and said, "No.  The girl, Sandy Dixon, overdosed and died at the river.  Bradley was stabbed to death and his body was hidden with another body in a makeshift grave in the basement of what the locals refer to as The Bando."

Wolverine simmered down for a moment.  He rolled his head over on his pillow.  Then, he tried to sit up a little in his bed.  He winced again from a pain in his leg.  He started to talk and then stopped.  He thought again for a few seconds and then said, "Listen.  I can tell you what happened the other night to Bradley.  But, I want a deal in this whole case and I want protection from Ronnie Dixon."

The officer asked immediately, "So you are saying that Ronnie Dixon is responsible for the two bodies?  Who is the other body?  How did he die?'

Wolverine was sitting up the best he could and was trying to scratch under one of the casts.  He started to talk and then stopped again.  He tried his hardest to act scared, "Listen.  I want protection from Dixon.  You obviously do not know who he is?  He has been around West Virginia for a while."  Wolverine made up his story as he went along and tried his hardest to be believable.  "He ran drugs out of Detroit for years.  He was a big gang member and street fighter.  They called him White Boy.  White Boy Ronnie.  He is mean.  Very vicious.  He got in some trouble with the gang and decided to break free of them.  He and that girl settled down a little but got hooked on drugs and lost everything.  I have seen him with a knife before the other night, so I knew to be careful."  Wolverine stopped to gather the story in his mind.

The trooper was not sure or not to believe him but played along with the story.  "So, you saw Dixon stab Bradley Mills?  You were there when he killed him?"

Wolverine looked around the room like he was afraid someone else could overhear him talk.  He spoke again, "White Boy Ronnie found out that Bradley was messing with Sandy.  He was pissed.  White boy doesn’t go for that.  He had been with Sandy for years.  He first started on Sandy and she admitted they were lovers.  He was going to hit her then Bradley jumped up.  They started to fight but Brad is just a kid.  White Boy pulled out his knife and it was over.  Dixon gutted him before I could even say anything.  Sandy was very upset, but she was so afraid of Ronnie, all she could do was cry."

The trooper was trying to keep up writing notes as Wolverine talked.  He was sure the story was not totally true, but he would not have been surprised if some of it was true.  "Who was the other body and how did he die?"

Wolverine said quickly.  "That was some kid that overdosed and died before I even got there.  Bradley and I had been together all day.  Then when we came back that kid was there dead.  I never met him.  We took off to Pea Ridge and that is when things started getting dark.  We got some drugs from money we stole from cars and after we went back to The Bando, Ronnie started to get jealous.  That is when the fight happened.  I thought Ronnie was going to come after me.  I didn't have a weapon.  He told me he didn't like to leave witnesses and that I better disappear. He told me if I left town, he would not kill me.  So the next day, I left and came down here.  I was going to stay here a few days and then head to Florida.  I want as far away from White Boy Ronnie as possible."

The policeman stopped writing and held his notebook at his side, "I assure you, you are safe right now.  You will have to talk to the prosecuting attorney about any deals, but I will note that you were cooperative with the investigation.  Do you have any idea where Ronnie would go?"

"He may try to go back to Detroit, After all, it's his home.  You know how them gang bangers are.  They come down here and start their trouble and when something happens, they disappear in thin air and go back on the streets of Detroit."

The trooper walked over to the side of the bed.  "Well, Mr. Cane, I hope what you have told me is the truth.  There are a lot of things that are going to come out about this case.  When we catch Ronnie, and we will, I hope his story does not further implicate you.  Like I said, I can't make any deals but I'm sure if you testify and help convict Ronnie for murder, then that will be considered when discussing the punishment for the crimes you committed."

Wolverine tried to smile but still pretended to be nervous, "I hope so because I don't know who White Boy knows that could come after me once I testify."

The trooper had another question and he shifted his weight back to his other leg.  He rubbed the side of his face and asked, "I know you were in here last night, but do you know why Ronnie would have killed Bradley's father Charlie Mills?"

Wolverine looked puzzled and said, "I don't know anything about that but like I said, Ronnie is mean.  He has killed many.  He probably just ran into Charlie while Charlie was looking for Brad.  Before I left The Bando, that dude approached me and asked me if I had seen Bradley."

"What did you tell him?' the trooper asked.

“I lied and said no.  I just wanted out of there.  I didn't know if Ronnie was watching or not.  I was glad he let me live.  I don't have ties to Huntington.  I'm a drifter.  I'm not dying for anyone.  I had some fun there.  Did some drugs.  Stole a few things.  Screwed some ladies but then I'm gone to the next town.  I have no roots and I'm not dying for anyone."

 

It would have been a dramatic understate to say it was a rough night for Amy Mills.  Every emotion imaginable and several fused together visited her.  One moment she was angry and ready for revenge.  Suddenly, she would be vividly reliving moments through pictures.  Special moments like walking down the aisle with the man who devoted his life to her and their children.  Relived the day her and her husband took their only son home from Cabell Huntington Hospital after he was born.  Vacations, holidays, and even bad times played in her mind.  Sleep did not come but instead, she walked through a bittersweet world which was neither reality or fantasy or reality.

Morning rolled in and a panic came over her as she thought of everything she must do.  There were relatives to call, funeral plans to make and the media would likely come knocking at her door.  She would not even be able to go to Kroger’s without facing well-meaning neighbors asking questions and paying their respects.  She started to shake.

 

She shook uncontrollably.  She was not sure what it was.  It was a cross between a nervous breakdown and an anxiety attack.  Then, she realized exactly what the feeling was.  It had been a long time since she felt it, but she realized ìt was Master Heroin calling her.

 Master Heroin know she was weak.  Master Heroin knew she was tired.  Master Heroin would carry her through this hell.  Amy Mills was ready to answer her master.  Without her husband, she needed something to believe in and an edge to carry her through the hellish day that laid ahead in front of her.  

Before she realized it, she was banging on T's door.  T answered the door while he wiped sleep from his eyes.  He focused his weary eyes on the lady standing in his doorway.  "Lady, it's not even eight o'clock yet.  What are you doing banging on my door already?"

Amy was still shaking and crying.  Master Heroin was in charge now.  She begged, "T, I need you to sell me a half.  I'll give you extra.  My husband and son are dead.  I just need something to help me deal."

T rubbed his chin and stuck his arm against the door and used it to brace himself.  He spoke, "I already know.  Word travels fast around this block.  I can't sell it to you."

Amy was horrified.  She had been looking for a reason to vent some anger.  She yelled, "What do you mean you can't sell it to me?  You are a drug dealer, that is what you do!"

T braced up against his arm and said, "For one, keep it down.  For another, you haven't done dope in a while, you don't need it.  Get yourself together and get strong.  You have to set a good example for your daughter!"

Amy calmed down a little, but she was still mad.  Master Heroin was calling, and she must answer the call.  "I just need it to get through the next couple of days.  I am not going to get back on it."

T shook his head and said, "You do it again once and then it's got you again.  If something happens to you, what is it going to do to Brooke.  She has lost the same has you.  You can't risk her losing you, too.  Straighten up!"

"I promise...just this once," Amy begged.

"Just because I'm a drug dealer doesn't mean I'm this greedy guy without any feelings.  I'm sorry what happened to your husband and your son. Your husband and I clashed a few times, but believe it or not, I respect him.  He was doing what he thought he had to do to protect his family.  I do what I gotta do for me, but that doesn't mean I'm a bad guy.  If I don't supply the demand, then someone else will.  But I'm not going to help beat you down.  You don't need this.  You haven't been using.  You aren't sick.  You are just wanting a crutch.  Stand up and walk on your own.  I know you gotta walk through Hell, but you can do it.  Brooke is walking through Hell, help her get through it."

Amy knew he was right.  She turned and left without saying a word.  She knew what was best for her and she did not care what anyone else thought.  She drove to Sixth Avenue and cruised from First Street to Ninth Street until she saw someone she knew.  She paid a prostitute that she knew from the area and seeing at drug houses a few years ago to go get her some dope.  She bought the girl a tenth to get her a half.  She got the drugs and headed home.

The trip home was surreal.  It was like it never happened.  The whole last twenty-four hours was like she was out of her own body.  She knew she had a lot to do and the heroin would help her get through it.  She went home and went back in her room and found a needle she had hidden for emergency purposes.  She loaded it up and then started to cry.  Tears began raining down her face.  She tucked her head down and put her body into a fetal position.  She paused for a few moments.  Sleep finally came.  She slept as her needle remained beside her untouched.

 

Brooke woke up after a few hours’ sleep.  She was pleasantly surprised to see Vince sitting in her chair playing on the cell phone.  She smiled and got up out of bed and walked over and gave him a big hug.  "Thanks for being there for me and watching over me while I slept.  I don't know how I could have gotten through last night without you.  I mean, I lost everything but my mother and suddenly here you come riding out of the past in time to save me.  Talk about your damsel in distress and her white knight."

Vince smiled and hugged her back.  "There's no way I'd walk away from you.  You are going to get through this.  This is a great tragedy, but you are going to find out how really strong you are."

Brooke smiled and kissed him on the cheek.  "You are really sweet.  I can't believe I never saw that before."

Vince smiled back, "We were just kids.  Well, I was anyway.  We have both been through a lot and we are still going. I didn't have confidence in myself.  I do now.  We got this."  Slowly, they embraced in their first kiss.  It turned into a few kisses but then, Vince gently pulled away.  "You know I've dreamed about that moment for years.  Trust me, it was every bit as great as I dreamed it would be but there's time for all of that.  I don't want the feeling I'm taking advantage of you at a bad time."

Brooke laughed, "Don't be silly, I want you beside me, more than you ever know.  You are all grown up and sexy, but you still got that gentle, kind heart that made us friends."

Vince was purposely sounding sarcastic as he said, "A girl coming off heroin who just lost two of the most important people in her life.  Yes, that sure isn't a bad time, huh?  I'm not going to try to get you make decisions while you are in the state of mind you are in.  I respect you now respect my wishes.  Believe me, when this is all over with, I will still be here...if you want me."

Brooke grabbed her pillow and playfully tried to smother him.  She said, "See how sweet you are."

Vince broke away and pulled his phone back out.  "I hate to bring it up, but back to reality," he started.  "The news has broken.  They announced it was your dad and brother.  They do not have much details or at least, they are not releasing them yet.  They just said three bodies were found.  They haven't identified the other one yet."

Brooke got up.  "I feel better today.  A little stronger.  I think I'm finally ready to eat.  Let me check on mom and see how she is doing."  She bent over and gave Vince a big smooch on the lips and said, "Thank you for being so sweet in my time of need."

Brooke walked into her mother's room and saw her laying next to a syringe.  She picked up the needle and saw it was still loaded.  She was pretty sure that her mom did not shoot up.  She laid next to her and kissed her gently on the cheek.  Amy's eyes opened.  "I love you, Mommy," Brooke said sweetly.

Amy instantly said, "I love you, too.  We are going to get through this."

Brooke said, "I see you almost gave in.  You didn't though. did you?"

Amy paused and a tear came to her eyes. "No, Baby.  I didn't.  I almost did but I kept thinking of you and I just couldn't.  It would have been taking the easy way.  You've been so strong the last couple of days that I couldn't abandon you on your journey to get sober.  We are going to make it through this and we are going to make it through sober.  I'm so proud of you."

Brooke hugged her, "You're all I've got now, Mommy.  I can't lose you."

"You're all I got, Brookie.  I can't lose you."  This she lifted her head up and said playfully, "Hey, you've got Vince now."

Brooke giggled and said, "Isn't he sweet, though?"

Amy giggled back, "He certainly is, Baby.  I think you might have to hang onto this one."

They both walked into the bathroom and flushed the drugs down the drain and broke the syringe and then engaged in a hug.  Amy whispered in her daughter's ear, "We are going to make it through this.  Trust me.  We are both stronger than we know."

Her daughter hugged her tight and whispered into her mother's ear, "I know we are. We are going to make it."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           CHAPTER 14

 

Dakota Woods was frustrated.  To complicate matters, the morning sun kicked in early and the coffee someone brought him was weak and cold.  He had been up all night searching for clues and The Bando refused to yield very many.  Detective Mike Ray had been there for some of the night and then left for a while and came back.  He is the one who brought the coffee.

"Gee, Mike...you could of least brought me Starbucks back.  You're the one who got some sleep!  Instead you left me out here in this clueless crime scene.  I'll bet you even got you a little after you left me out here all night," Dakota teased with a serious, mean look on his face only to burst into a smile after Mike was speechless and just shrugged his shoulders.

"You are the hero cop, Batman.  You mean you don't have this thing solved by now.  I figured once I got back here, you would have had it all wrapped up!" Mike Ray did not have the comedic delivery of Dakota but his seemed funnier with his deadpan style.

Dakota shrugged his shoulders and sighed, "I've got one murder solved which isn't bad concerning this crime scene is tainted.  Between all of the fire fighters and police that have been all around the scene and the multitudes of homeless that have been parading in and out of here, it's hard to get any meaningful prints.  The blunt object that was used to kill Recovery Dude isn't here...I'm presuming the killer took it with him.  But we do have an apparent witness, although he is a hundred miles away and about as credible as a... Well, I don 't have anything to compare it to, but he has so many felonies, it is hard to believe him."

Ray took a sip of coffee, "Wow, this stuff isn't very good, is it?  I'm glad I got a little sleep, because this coffee sure wouldn't wake me." Woods shot him a dirty look and Mike Ray continued speaking, "I'm assuming you are talking about that Cane character they pulled out of the Malibu."

Dakota shook his head yes, and spoke, "Yeah, Lester Cane is his name.  He says Ronnie Dixon stabbed Bradley Mills to death.  He also said the other body they found was a younger guy who overdosed and died while Lester wasn't there.  I don't know how much you can believe a guy that thinks he is Wolverine though.  You'd have to have a drunk jury to believe that testimony."

Mike Ray looked around the yard of The Bando and said, "Well, I guess we will probably put an arrest warrant out for Ronnie Dixon.  And wait for the tests to come back on the other guy.  That frees us to focus on who killed The Recovery Man?"

Dakota took another drink of coffee and the weak drink made him make a funny face.  "Can we send someone out for some decent coffee.  Hell, I'll settle for McDonald's.  I think you must have got this cup from a homeless guy in the alley selling day old coffee out of his 1988 Big Bear shopping cart."  Dakota laughed at his own remark and then turned serious.  "They can pick Dixon up and they will be holding ol' Wolfie for a while for the other things he did.  Then, they can get those two together and figure out which one or both did it.  Likely, they were both in on it but that's not our problem.  Our problem is who killed the elder Mills?"

Mike agreed, "Which we know Wolfie didn't do it because he was in custody.  It could be Dixon, but we don't have anything placing him at the scene of the crime.  I guess there isn't any parking lot cameras or street cameras to pick up the murder when it happened?"

Dakota shot him an aggravated look, "Now if it was going to be that easy, you could have stayed home in bed and I would have wrapped it all up for you.  No cameras.  No witnesses.  I've been searching for witnesses all night.  It looks like there would be security cameras somewhere here since this neighborhood has a bunch of crimes, but no there isn't any."

Mike shook his head back and forth and sighed, "No clues.  No witnesses.  The prosecutor's office is just gonna love you, aren't they?"

Dakota smiled, "They already love me...but, that's because I'm pretty.  It's you they are going to hate.  You are working this case too and you haven't found any clues or witnesses... and you're ugly.  At least, I talked to the state police and got the Wolverine eye witness account."

Mike countered, "You mean you were pretty.  Have you looked in the mirror lately?  All of this not sleeping and bad coffee has made an old man out of you."

The Bando was still quite active.  Investigators from the HFD were on hand trying to determine the cause of the fire.  City workers were determining how to make the building temporarily safe and off limits until it could be taken down.  The media had gathered and were wanting to talk to officers involved including Dakota Woods.

The scene got even more crowded as the Vince Boyd's black Silverado pulled up.  Vince got out along with Brooke and Amy.  They were all three drinking from Starbuck's cups as they approached the detectives.  Dakota gave Mike a hateful look and said, "They were smart enough to go to Starbuck's.  And you are a detective who does this all of the time and you get your coffee from Homeless Ollie in The Alley."

Mike ignored the comment and walked up to Amy Mills, "Ma'am, how are you doing this morning.  Once again, I am very sorry for your losses.  On behalf of the whole department, we want to extend our deepest condolences.  Your husband made a great contribution to this community.  This city is a better place for all of those he helped."

Amy did not have an expression on her face.  She had put makeup on, but it was obvious to everyone that she had been crying and did not have much sleep.  "Thank you", she said politely.  "He was a great man."

Dakota walked over to Amy.  He had talked to her on the phone earlier and told her they were issuing a warrant for Ronnie Dixon's arrest.  Dakota told her he had a few questions to ask her and said she did not mind stopping by and that it did not bother her to be at the place where her son and husband were murdered.

Dakota and Amy walked slowly away from everyone else.  Dakota looked away at across the street at the bus station and then looked straight into her eyes.  He could tell she was a little nervous.  There were a few tears in her eyes which Dakota considered perfectly natural since she had lost her son and husband at this very spot about twelve hours ago.

Dakota asked in a soft voice, "How are you holding up, Amy?  I can't even imagine how tough this must be, but you seem to be keeping your composure pretty well."

Amy broke eye contact with the detective for a moment and looked back at the bando and said, "Charlie and I had been married for twenty-eight years.  We started dating as juniors in high school.  We've been through a lot together.  He was kind but tougher than people realized.  He never let anyone see him down.  I guess I learned something from him after all of these years."

Dakota looked at her and they started slowly walking put in the alley.  He figured she may be more comfortable away from the murder scene.  He said, "I never met Charlie, but I have heard so many positive things about him.  I can't imagine someone doing this to him.  This murder was so brutal, but he was such a kind man who helped so many people.  There's a good chance, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he saw something he wasn't supposed to see.  But I keep coming back to the extreme violence of the crime.  It seemed so personal.  It's like the murderer knew him and hated him.  He hit him after he was dead.  Can you think of anyone who disliked him that much?  Has he fought with anyone lately?  Is there anyone that could have followed him here?  Could the fact his son was killed here too, been a weird coincidence?"

Amy thought for a few moments.  She was watching people walk over by Huntington St. Joe.  she turned to Dakota and shook her head 'no' and said, "Not really.  Everybody loved Charlie.  He liked to help.  Even if he made someone mad, lt wouldn't be bad enough to want to beat his brains out."

"So, you can't think of anything in the last week that could of triggered something?  Even something small?  Any argument at all?"

Amy wondered if she should tell about his encounter with T.  She did not think T would do it, but it did not take long for T to know about it.  She really did not want to reveal why she was at his house.  She looked at the detective and said, “Our daughter Brooke overdosed a few days ago.  Charlie went to her dealer and confronted him."

Dakota raised his eyebrows and asked, "Was there an altercation?"  Any threats by either? Were you there?"

She responded quickly, "I didn't go.  They didn't fight but they screamed.  Charlie threatened him bit I am not sure if he threatened T.  We call him T.  I don't know his name."

Dakota’s adrenalin raced a little.  "This could be a lead.  These dealers are violent.  People do not realize how dangerous these guys are.  They don't like guys coming into their territory and threatening them and making them look bad.  They got reps to protect.  They have to look street. Where can I find this guy?"

Amy gave him the address and directions, but she did not feel right.  Finally, she added, "I must tell you something."  She paused about ten seconds, and then continued.  "I haven't used in a very long time.  I almost slipped this morning.  I went to see T.  He knew about the murders and he wouldn't sell it to me.  He said he respected Charlie and I need to stay strong for Brooke.  So, I don't think he did it."

Dakota gave her a hard look and stated, "You do need to stay strong for Brooke and yourself.  Being strung out isn't going to help anything or anyone.  He is a suspect.  If anyone knew about Charlie threatening him then he may do something to save face."

They started to walk back to The Bando.  Amy turned to Dakota and asked, "Doesn't most of the Detroit boys use guns.  I mean I know you guys are the police but this sounds like someone who was protecting evidence snuck up on him and just made sure he didn't find what he was looking for."

Dakota agreed, "Yes, that does sound very logical nit these things sometimes turn out different than how you might think.  This kind of looks like someone was sending a message.  I mean we certainly want to talk to Ronnie Dixon bit until we do, we have to examine other possibilities as well.  Ronnie Dixon is definitely a prime suspect, but T is a suspect for now as well."

As the two walked back up to The Bando, Harley Baker was walking up from the alley.  Dakota turned back to Amy and asked, "How well do you know that guy?"

 

"Harley?" Amy asked Dakota.  " He used to help Charlie out with his Recovery Man site.  He would stop by and they would work on videos.  He started his own site and stopped coming by.  Charlie never talked too much about him and I never really talked to him that much."

"Okay.  I am a little weary of him.  His site slams the HPD, then they act like they support us.  Then they use the scanner and cause a mess putting wrong information out there. He acts like he is one of us or on our side then sticks a knife in our backs.  It is all very political and I'm not that into politics which I guess is one reason I don't understand it.  Just be careful of him, he seems to have his own agenda and is a master manipulator."

" I will look out for him.  Thanks for telling me.  Charlie never said much about him to me" Amy said as Harley got closer to them.

Dakota added as he started to walk away, "If you can, it may be helpful if you can get on his computers or email accounts and see if he has received or sent any threatening emails.  There may have been something going on that he did not want to involve you in or to worry you."

Harley walked in and wiped the sweat off his brow as he said, "Good day, Ma'am.  Dakota, I have my group trying to find out what they can.  They are a resourceful bunch.  Over twenty thousand members.  They may solve it for you today."

Dakota was a little aggravated by what he thought was Harley showing off in front of Amy.  He tried not to let it show as he said, "That's fine, Harley, but please do not post anything you hear us talking about or anything Amy may tell you."

"Don't worry, Dakota, I would never do anything to jeopardize this or any other case," Harley said very politely.

Dakota thanked Amy for answering the questions, bid Harley goodbye and walked back over to The Bando.  He was about ready to drop.  He was hot, hungry, and beyond exhausted.  His air-conditioned house, a homecooked meal, and a comfortable was going to solve those problems in a few hours...but of course, that was still a few hours away.

Harley smiled at Amy and said, "Ma'am, I know you have walked through Hell the last few hours, but you wear it well.  I want you to know that if there is anything, I can do at all to help, I am at your service.  I buried my wife a few years ago so I know how unnerving this process can be and I remember some of the things that need done."

Amy knew she looked horrible from crying and not sleeping but she figured, he was being polite.  Dakota told her to be careful with him and as a psych nurse, she knew what people were capable of, so she kept Dakota's warning in the back of her mind.

 

Ronnie Dixon leaned against the wall of The TTA Bus Station across the street from The Bando and watched the flurry of activity going on at the house.  He was sick.  He was tired.  He had lost his wife.  He had lost his home.  Even worse, he did not have any drugs.  He did not have any money. He did not have any woman to go get his drugs.  He even lost all of his possessions in the fire.  All he had left was The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt that he found in a dumpster.  He needed a new plan.  Ronnie Dixon realized that he was going to have to make something happen because all he had done this week was lose things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             CHAPTER 15

 

Very few things had scared Kim Hines in her tough life.  From the time she was old enough to remember, violence and hard times had trailed her.  She had seen people die before, but never has violently as she saw her friend Charlie Mills ruthlessly bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat.  The visions of blood splattering from his face had her shaking twelve hours later.  She was so terrified as she watched the man strike him between the eyes and then twice over the head, that her legs literally gave out and she fell in terror.  She clung to the ground and made her first prayers to God for the first time since she was a little girl of seven at her mother's funeral.  Even now she could barely breathe as she would hyperventilate as she thought about it.

She ran as far and fast as she could away from The Band as soon as the paralysis left her body.  She ran to the river bank and ran through the woods all night.  It was noon the next day and she was somewhere down Route 2.  She accepted a ride about three in the morning when she finally got the courage to walk onto the road.  The stranger gave her ride almost to Point Pleasant. 

She did not recognize the murderer who slayed her hero...the one man who seemed to genuinely care about her and how she felt.  Charlie Mills had tried to save her, and it hurt her she could not save him.  The murder was so violent she could not even quit shaking enough to call for help or call the police.  The police were perhaps the only other thing that scared her.  She had heard bad stories of the police and very few people in her family had ever had positive experiences with any police anywhere.

She could certainly recognize the killer if she came upon him again.  It was dark and she was thirty yards away, but he stepped into a spotlight as he approached and gave away his identity and now it was horridly forever etched into her mind.   The picture of this barbarian butchering her only friend would surely haunt her the rest of her life.

She was a drug addict to most residents of Huntington.  They turned their noses up at her.  She was a beggar and a bag lady to most.  A pitiful shell of her former self who begged for scraps of food and dug in dumpsters for items to sell for drugs.  When her face was not as full of sores from digging at what she called "meth mites" and before the meth ravaged her body taking over forty pounds from her, she would prostitute.  She would pick up men in the alleys of Huntington and have sex for drug money before her lifestyle left her one step above death and now, even dirty old men would not trade money for sex.  She even began to see herself as an ugly, vile person.  Most people would not even answer her questions.  Charlie Mills was not most people.  He was a rare man.  He always had a kind word and something to eat for Kim.  He cried over her when he knew she was truly suffering.  He begged her to let him help her into a program that could ultimately save her life.  When he missed seeing her for days, he would search for her.  She was perhaps the only true friend she had ever know.  Perhaps the only man, even including her relatives, that did not talk to her with only the sole purpose of having sex in mind.

The sun was getting hot and she was all alone.  The later it got and the safer she felt, the more she wanted Charlie Mills to have justice.  She did not know where she was walking to, but she figured she would walk until the little bit of ice she had taken had worn out of her system.  When she was confident, she would not be found, she would journey back to the road and hitchhike a ride out of West Virginia.  It was finally time to leave this state.  She was ready to go anywhere but she wanted it to be a long way.  She never wanted to see that murderous face who took her only friend and her only hope.

She started to get hungry as she walked.  Guilt for not calling the police nagged at her.  Her phone would surely not get good reception out here, not out in the middle of nowhere.  It did not even have cell company service.  She had text now and that would let her get on Facebook.  She had one idea to help Charlie find justice, but she would have to get into service.  Although she was scared, she decided to search for a ride into Point Pleasant where she could get service.  She was too paranoid from the ice to realize that the chances of running into his killer way out here and him even knowing who she was a witness to the crime was remote and nearly impossible at best.  she had not slept in days and had eaten very little in days, so the drug made her ultra-paranoid.

 

The sun was beating down on Ronnie Dixon and he became sicker with every step he took.  It was three o'clock in the afternoon and he was hungry, tired, and dope sick.  He had nowhere to go and no money for dope.  He had to try something.  He was at the point that he did not worry if the police caught him or not.  He crept into Downtown Huntington.  His first thought was to find a car with an unlocked door.  He did not care if it was broad daylight or not, he wanted some ice or dog food.  He crept past Dan's Sporting Goods on Fourth Avenue.  He spied a nice new black Camaro.  Without thinking, he  took a quick glance left and right and lunged at the door.  As he tried to pry the door open, he heard a command to get on the ground.  He looked to see three HPD officers standing behind him with guns drawn.  Ronnie Mills decided to follow their advice and hit the ground.  Before he knew it, the whole area was filled with police of every kind - Marshall University, HPD, Cabell County deputies, and West Virginia State Highway patrol.  "Damn," Ronnie thought.  "Kind of a big turnout for a petty thief like himself.  He did not know to feel embarrassed, scared, or proud that he was such a wanted man.  He was really too damn sick to care anyway.

The next few minutes were a blur to Ronnie Dixon.  He thought he was going to pass out.  Voices were screaming at him.  He felt he was going to pass out as he lied on the hot sidewalk.  He was searched and handcuff.  A voice screamed in his ear that he was being charged with the murder of Bradley Mills.  A couple of officers yanked him off of the ground as the world spun around him.  "Ice," he mumbled to himself, "If only I had some ice."  He was unconscious and his legs buckled.  The policemen lifted him as he fell to the ground and placed him in the police car.  

The next thing Ronnie knew when he came to, he was being led out of the police car and into the Huntington Police station.  A television reporter scampered off to the left of him trying to film him and ask him if he killed Charlie Mills.  He instinctively tried to hide his face to the camera.  He was dizzy.  He was being forced along now more than he was walking under his own power.

He went out on his feet again as they entered the doors of the police department.  When he came to, he was in a little room with Dakota Woods sitting across from him.  Dakota looked at him with disgust on his face.  "Ronnie, I am Detective Dakota Woods of The Huntington Police Department.  You are in a lot of trouble.  The only way you are going to get out of this is to be honest with me."

"I want a lawyer," Ronnie growled.

"You can have a lawyer but if you talk to us and give us some answers, we might be able to get around a little of the bullshit.  Your friend Lester Cane did not have any problems talking to us".

"Who in the hell is Lester Cane," Ronnie Dixon scowled with a bewildered look on his face."

Dakota looked through the glass window behind them and then back at his prisoner.  "That guy that calls himself Wolverine.  He told us you killed Bradley in a fight over your wife Sandy.  He said you were jealous because Bradley and your wife had been messing around."

"I didn't give a shit about that," Ronnie laughed.  "I was sick of that bitch.  I left him screw her because he was giving her drug money and she would give most of it to me.  If anything, I was her pimp.  I wouldn't kill that little son of a bitch, he kept me high."

Dakota was a little alarmed that he was talking about his recently deceased wife like that, but then again it should have been obvious that Ronnie did not care about his wife.  When he thought of it, Dakota could see where they would more like partners in a scam to get drugs then husband and wife.  Dakota spoke up, "Why would Lester...I mean Wolverine kill him?  It makes more sense you would kill him out of jealousy."

Ronnie slapped his hands on the table.  "Listen, guys, at this moment in my life, I really don't give two shits.  My wife is gone and isn't coming back.  I have nowhere to stay and I'm drug sick as hell.  I'd just as soon as you put that gun up against my head and I'd even pull the trigger myself.  I didn't kill anyone!"

Dakota smirked, "Okay.  So, we are supposed to take your word for that.  I mean...we have a witness that says he watched you do it, but you say that you didn't, even though the motive fits, but.... you say you didn't do it.  So, I guess we should just let you go."  Dakota paused for a moment, then he slapped the table much harder than Ronnie did and raised his voice.  "Come on, Ronnie, give me something better than that.  Give me something that makes more since than you killed the guy that was screwing your wife."

Ronnie just stared at the detective.  He said calmly, "Okay.  Wolverine, or Lester...whatever you want to call that goofy bastard...did it.'

Dakota looked at him calmly and moved forward in his chair.  He said calmly, "Okay.  Now, we are getting somewhere."  Dakota paused for several seconds and then calmly asked, "Why?"

Ronnie sighed, "Okay.  I already know you guys know what happened earlier.  We were all doing drugs and decided to go rob some shit and get more dope money."

Ronnie stopped talking and Dakota slowly shook his head in agreement and said, "Yes.  We had all kinds of reports and pictures.  I figured you knew we were looking for you over that alone."

"Okay.  Some little kid that had been hanging out with us while we were doing drugs was there.  He passed out.  We really didn't think about him and went out and did our thing.  When we got back, he was dead."

Dakota looked at him.  "Dead, huh?  So, you guys just left him there?  Classy thing to do."

Ronnie raised his eyebrows.  "That's exactly what the fight was about.  Wolfie was a showoff and a screw up. I barely knew him and hated him.  Now, I'll be honest with you...I really didn't care that the kid was dead.  I was pissed that we had a body to get rid of, but I really didn't care.  That's just me.  Bradley on the other hand, was a good kid.  He was different than me and Wolf and even different than Sandy.  Sandy was more worried about her own ass."

Dakota was watching him closely and hanging on his every word, but the detective was getting very sleepy.  It had been a long day.  As interesting as this was, he was starting to think about sleep and food.  He was at the police station making a report and was ready to go home when they got the call.  Dakota said, "He's Charlie Mills kid.  Yes, he was raised differently.  I get it."

"Okay."  Ronnie continued again, "Bradley wanted to help him.  He told Sandy to call 911.  I was a little concerned about that idea.  I mean, we just got back from stealing a lot of stuff and we were higher than hell.  It would have been a bonehead move to call 911.  I mean, the kid was already dead.  Well, Bradley kept going on about doing the right thing until him and Wolvie flew into each other.  He surprised Wolverine.  Wolfie was bigger and stronger but Bradley was lighting him up.  Wolfie realized he was going to get his ass kicked, so he pulled out the knife and stabbed him."

Dakota looked at him a few seconds and then deadpanned, "Really?  That's the best you got?  You are about to be charged with murder and that's the best you got?"

Ronnie was amazed, "Man, I'm not lying to you.  Look at me!  I'm a junkie.  Look at me!  I'm bony as hell and my eyes are sunken in.  I go days without food or sleep.  I sold my wife's ass to get high.  You think I really give a damn about a guy that gave us money screwing my wife.  My wife gave blowjobs to get us high.  This isn't high school.  I'm not going to cry and jump someone because he screwed my wife.  I had drugs there!  I didn't care about my wife, right then.  I just wanted to fucking get high!"

 Dakota just sat there and looked at the window behind them again.  He could actually buy that.  He could actually believe that this piece of shit in front of him would let people screw his wife to get high.  It really was not hard to believe when he really thought about it.  "So, what did you do after he killed him?"

Ronnie laughed, "What do you think I did?  I fucking got high.  I helped him clean it up because I didn't want him to kill me.  I'm a skinny fucker.  I didn't want to fight that crazy bastard and especially after he killed that boy right in front of me.  Die or get high?  Those were my choices.  Hell yeah, I picked getting high.  Look at me, Cop!  Look at me!  Which one would you think I'd choose?  Really?  Do you have me for the hero type or just a junkie?"

Dakota was tired, he thought to himself, "This guy could be his own lawyer.  He is making damn good sense.'

Ronnie said, "Of course, that bastard would say I done it.  You had him and didn't have me.  Bring his goofy ass in here now!"

Dakota looked at him.  He scratched his head.  He was getting ready to speak when Ronnie began to talk again.  Ronnie said, "I get it that you got to charge me with the shit that happened in Barboursville.  I get that.  I admit to that.  I am not admitting to killing either one of those kids, because I didn't do it.  I had my drugs.  Why else would I kill anyone?"

Dakota stopped and thought for a few.  Then, he spoke again, "I've got to ask you something.  Did you kill Charlie Mills and set The Bando on fire?"

"Dude!  Why would I kill anyone?  I don't have to kill anyone to get high?  I mean I'm not even sure what the hell you are talking about.  I don't even know him.  I'm assuming it is Brad's dad.  Now, why in the hell would I kill him?"

Dakota answered quickly, "Because you didn't want him to find the two bodies."

"Dude!  Don't you get it?  I didn't kill Brad, why would I care what the guy finds there?  If I wanted the bodies gone, I would have dumped them in the river.  This is getting stupid.  I was honest with you.  Now, you are accusing me of a second murder?  Take me to my cell.  I'm done.  I'm sick.  I want a lawyer."

Dakota looked at the window.  "Get him out of here for now."  He walked up to Detective Mike Ray.  "I don't know what to think.  I've got to go home for a while and let this all sink in.  Let me get a shower, some food, and a few hours’ sleep and we can put this all together in the morning."

Detective Mike Ray scratched his head and said to his fellow detective Dakota Woods, "Ronnie is going to be here a while.  He has a lot to answer for the crime spree the other night.  Then, we will get him and Cane together and see who we can get a confession out of in Bradley's murder.  It has got to be one of them or we get both."

Dakota closed his weary eyes for aa few seconds and thought, "You know, I really sense Ronnie is telling the truth.  I know he's a worm but I'm not feeling that he's a killer.  The problem is that if he didn't kill the Recovery Man, then who did?"

Ray could sense Dakota's frustration.  "This is day one.  We will get answers.  Hang in there.  This is a big high-profile case.  We have to solve.  Get some rest."

"Yep", Dakota said, "Gotta go see the dope man first."

Mike Ray cracked a smile, "Now, you are sounding like one of these squatters."

Dakota grinned, "You know what I mean.  I've got to go see the man that deals drugs to the Mills' family."

 

Dakota was not expecting to gain any new information from interviewing T.  The fact that Charlie Mills had very few if no enemies and that he was involved with an argument with the drug dealer made it necessary to check the lead out.  There were very few leads in the case and the evidence gathered at the crime scene had not turned up anything as of yet.  Several items were sent to the lab, but the results were not in yet.  

The detective knocked on the door and was created by T.  T had just gotten out of the shower and water was still dripping from his hair.  He had a blue towel draped around his shoulders and was wearing a plain white t-shirt.  He looked at Dakota and a disgusted look came over his face.  "Did that bitch really send you here," T moaned.  "I didn't sell her anything, so she told you I killed her husband, huh?  I see how justice works in this town."

Dakota rolled his eyes and said, "Let's try this again."  He put a wide, fake grin on his face and said, "Hello, I am Detective Dakota Woods with the Huntington Police Department and I was wondering if I may ask you a few questions?"

T put a big, fake grin on to match the detectives' and said, "Hello, I am T.  I did not kill Charlie Mills or anyone else?"

Dakota chuckled, "Well, T... let me ask you this.  What makes you think I am here about the Mills murder?"

T shook his head sideways and said, "The news is all over the block.  His wife was here to buy drugs today.  I do not sell drugs but if I did, I would not sell them to that family."

Dakota ran his hand through his short hair and said, "Listen, I have had a long night and day.  I just want to cut through the crap.  This issue isn't that I am here or even that I care that you sell drugs.  I am here because of comments you made to Charlie Mills a few days ago."

T became mildly irritated, "What are you talking about, Man?  He threatened to kill me.  He shows up at my door screaming and yelling about his family buying drugs.  So when his wife came wanting some I told her 'no.'"

"When he threatened you did you threaten him back?"  Dakota asked in a calm tone of voice.

T raised his voice and got excited, " Man, I was blowing off steam.  I told him how it was.  His family comes to me.  It takes two sides to make a drug deal.  The demand and supply.  I am a businessman.  If you have the demand, I will provide the supply."

"So, if I wanted drugs right now, would you sell them to me?" Dakota first asked with a straight face and then grinned.

"Man, what in the hell are you doing?" T shook his head in disgust.

Dakota laughed and asked, "So, he showed up here after his daughter overdosed and accused you of selling the drugs to her.  Then, he threatened you to never do that again?"

Yeah, yeah," T said.  "Something like that and then we got into a debate about recovery being as crooked as the dealers.  Do you want to hear all of that?"

Dakota put up his hand, "No, no.  I think I will pass on that one.  For whatever it is worth, Mrs. Mills said she didn't think you did it and said you refused because she needs to straighten up.  When a man and his son turn up dead and one of the only leads is he got into an argument, I have to check it out."

T shook his head up and down, "I get it.  You are just doing your job.  He wasn't mad when he left.  We understood each other.  I respected him coming here and saying that to my face instead of sending cops over here.  I wasn't going to deal with any of them again."  He sopped but then started again, "I'm not a bad guy.  I don't want to hurt anyone.  I didn't wake up one day and said I'm going to go five hundred miles to poison some people.  There's a demand and I fill it.  It's that simple.  It's a job, nothing more than that.  If I don't fill that demand, then someone else will.  I need the money.  That's my job.  I'm not in to flipping burgers or any of that choice.  The career has its' risks, but it pays my bills."

Dakota sighed, "I've pulled too many sheets up over people that have tried the type of product you sell and seen far too much blood at murder scenes from turf wars, to ever see your side of the story.  I believe you did not kill Charlie.  It just doesn't make sense that you did.  he posed no threat to you.  But I am never going to say that it is okay for you to sell drugs.  I've seen too many lives taken and too many lives wasted.  I am not here to bust you for drugs, but it is going in my record why Charlie was here.  I'm not sending anyone after you, but you don't know where this report will end up or who will see it.  So, if you want to continue supplying the demand, you may want to do it from somewhere else because you never know who will be watching."

T scowled, "Man, you said you weren't here about the drugs?"

Dakota took a step closer, "Are you in handcuffs?  Are there cops searching your stuff?  I don't think I have any drug dogs with me, do I?  I just said I really don't care about all that right now, but that doesn't mean I'm cool with it.  We may be watching, we may not be.  I think it would be stupid to continue selling here with me knowing what goes on, but that's your choice.  Got it, Man? "

"Whatever, Man.  Same old racist police department.  Every black man from Detroit is a drug dealer." T groaned.

"T, thanks!  Sorry, I don't have time to debate you.  Maybe later."

Dakota got in his car.  He did not think that anything was going to come out of that interview, but it is another name to cross off of the suspect list.  The only problem was there really was not any other names to put on the suspect list.  He had worked for eighteen hours and he really did not have much to show for it.

Brooke Mills took a piece of the Bojangle's chicken that Harley Baker picked up after he drove Amy to make funeral arrangements and said, "It feels good to be able to eat again.  I'm feeling a little better but still dizzy at times."

Amy smiled, "I am really proud of you.  I know how hard it is now.  It feels like our world is falling apart.  You saved me today.  We are going to get through this."

Brooke said, "You know, Mom, I didn't realize how strong I could be until I looked down at shot by you and I didn't want it.  I mean I had cravings yesterday, I'm not going to lie, but when I saw you get weak, it made me strong for you."

"Charlie would have been proud of both of you," Harley said as he dabbed his chin with his napkin.  

Vince Boyd smiled, "Brooke, you are doing really well.  Both in dealing with your brother and father's death but also in recovering.  I'm really glad to be back in your life.  It's almost as if God pulled me back in for a reason."

"God does work in mysterious ways," Harley said as he pulled out his phone and was looking at it.  He walked into the living room where FOX News was on the television and he was watching with interest.

Amy sat down at the kitchen table next to Brooke and said to her daughter, "Dakota was wanting to know if we could get on your father's emails and Facebook messages and see if there were any threats or angry messages.  He seems to be stuck right now and can't think of anyone with a motive to kill your dad."

Brooke shook her head up and down as she played with another chicken breast.  She said, "Yes.  I think Daddy used the same password on everything.  I shouldn't have any problem at all getting on.  I'll check it out soon as I get done eating."

Amy got up and started to clean the kitchen up as Harley walked back in the room, still playing on his phone.  Suddenly, the Facebook messenger began ringing on Brooke's phone.  She looked and said, "Kim Hines on Facebook.  Isn't that the homeless girl that Daddy used to talk to in the alley all of the time/"

"Homeless people can't afford homes but they can afford cell phones.  It figures.  Messed up priorities is how they got homeless in the first place," Harley Baker said.

Brooke did not answer the call and the quit ringing then started ringing, "I can't imagine why she is calling me.  I guess I better see what she wants,” Brooke answered and immediately was greeted by static.  She could hear a faint voice in between cracks.  "Brooke.  Brooke!  Are you there?  This is important.  Can you hear me?"

Brooke stood up and strained to hear.  She responded, "Yes.  Barely.  What is going on.  You sound scared."

Kim was crying, "Yes.  I am.  I saw your dad get murdered.  I was in the alley.  I had just talked to him and I was in a dumpster.  When I looked up, I saw him get whacked with a baseball bat."

Brooke was stunned, "What?  Are you serious, right now?  Why didn't you go to the police?"

Kim was crying and talking fast.  It was hard for Brooke to make out what she was saying with the static interference.  Kim cried, "I don't know him.  I've never seen him before, but I would know him if I ever saw him again.  Brooke, I'm so scared.  I'm afraid he is going to kill me!"  

Harley and Amy's heads both jerked up and they walked toward Brooke.  Vince stood up from his chair.  Brooke said, "You've got to call the police.  Where are you now?"

There was static, then silence.  Then, Kim could be heard whining, "Come and get me, please.  I can't talk to the police alone.  They won't believe me.  I'm afraid he will find me."

Vince motioned, "Sure, we can pick her up.  Where is she at?"

Kim could be heard faintly, "I'm hiding behind the dumpster at Speedway in Point Pleasant."

"Point Pleasant?' Brooke asked.  "What are you doing way up there? “Brooke was shaking, too.  She was not sure if it was nerves, adrenaline, or if she was scared for Kim.  "We are coming Brooke.  We are leaving now.  Please stay right there.  It will take about forty-five minutes, but we will be there."

"Please hurry.  Please.  Make sure you aren't followed."

"We should call the police," Amy said.  "I should probably call Dakota."

"Point Pleasant is out of his jurisdiction.  You and I can go...  I got my Glock right here in my holster.  No one is going to mess with us.  I was in the military and a policeman at one time, so you better believe that I know how to use it."

"Okay." Amy agreed.  "Let's go.  Brooke please do what I asked you to do."

"All right, Mom.  Please be careful." Brook pleaded.

"I've got a big strong man with me," Amy said as she smiled at Harley. "I'll call you when we get her.  We will call Dakota when we get back.  I'm sure he will know what to do."

Harley and Amy got in Harley's car and was quickly on their way up Route 2 to Point Pleasant.  Brooke went in to her father's desk and was able to access his email on his computer.  There were dozens of old emails and she read intently through each one.  Suddenly, she cried out for Vince, who quickly came running in to the room.  "What is it?" Vince asked.

"Oh My God!  I find it.  I found the emails that may be a motive!" Brooke exclaimed.

"Are you serious?  What do they say?"

Brooke gasped, "It is about money.  Daddy knew someone was extorting money!  They are arguing back and forth.  Daddy was mad!"  She stopped and looked horridly at Vince through very wide eyes.  "It was Harley Baker!"

"What?" Vince was stunned.  "Are you sure?  Do you think it was enough for him to kill your father?"

"I don't know.  He never mentioned anything about any disagreements with my father.  He may have been afraid my father would expose him.  It's the only thing we have got.  He's alone with Mom.  Harley knows Kim knows who the killer is.  He wanted to go awful bad.  Oh My God!  We've got to get up there! We can't call and warn her, or he will hear and maybe hurt her."
 

The pair jumped in Vince's truck and was on their way.  Brooke tried unsuccessfully to call Kim and warn her on messenger.  She tried the Speedway in Point Pleasant, but they did not see her.

Once in the truck, Brooke asked Vince, "Do you think Harley killed my father?"

Vince had a puzzled look and said, "I'm not sure.  There's something sneaky about that guy that I don't like.  Murder is a strong action but there really isn't any other suspects.  He's got a motive and I sense that he was jealous of your dad.  He seems to be power hungry and he thought Charlie could end his little power trip by telling about the theft.  Yes, he very well could have done it.  Kim didn't know the killer so it likely wasn't anybody from the alley."

Vince gunned the truck and it shot down Route 2.  Brooke kept trying to call and warn Kim.  Brooke asked, "Do you think he will try to kill them?"

Vince grimaced, "He is a desperate man who likely already killed your father.  He may very well.  I'd call and warn the Point Pleasant Police."

Brooke called 911 and told them what was going on and they said they would send a cruiser over to monitor the situation.  She also called Huntington Police Department and left messages for Dakota and Mike Ray.  She decided to call her mother and try to see what was going on, but the call went straight to her voice mail.  Vince was driving down the two-lane Route 2 like a madman.  He gunned the black Silverado and swerved through traffic like someone's life depended on it and it did.

 

Point Pleasant Policeman Bobby Sargent engineered the police cruiser into the Speedway parking lot.  He drove from one side of the parking lot to the other.  He did not see Kim Hines or anyone matching her description.  Kim Hines saw him.  She was tweaking and very paranoid.  Kim had been raised to fear the police.  Her family was arrested several times when she was little, and she learned that police officers were out to get you and not to help you.  The paranoia from the ice and lack of sleep and food did not help matters.  Kim was already hiding behind the blue dumpster beside of the store.  When she saw the police car, she was gone.  She turned and ran down the alley and through a few yards like her life depended on it.  Of course, the decision may well have placed her life in jeopardy because the police would have protected her, now, she was stuck in a small town she was not familiar with and by herself.

Bobby Sargent drove around a three-block radius and then went into Speedway.  She asked if they had seen a girl and they said 'no.'  Since she was hiding, no one had paid any attention to her or even saw her.  Sargent went back out and drove to another part of town.

A few minutes after the officer left, Harley Baker and Amy Mills pulled into Speedway parking lot.  "I don't see her, " Harley said.  "What does she look like anyway?"

Amy replied, "I'm not really sure.  I guess like a homeless, whatever that may look like."

"If she's a tweaker, she probably is skinny with holes in her face and dirty hair.  If she was home, she would no doubt have a back pack on and pushing a shopping buggy.  She's on the run, so I guess she won't have a buggy, but she could have a back pack.  Could you try to call her, possibly?"

Amy shook her head 'no'.  I don't have her number.  What was her name?  Was in Kim Hines?  I'll look it up on Facebook messenger."

Harley agreed and kept driving slowly up and down the alleys.

While Harley and Amy were searching for a hiding Kim Hines, Vince and Brooke continued to speed down Route 2.  Unknown to Kim Hines, but her hiding was actually buying her more time.  It was giving Vince and Brooke more time to get to Point Pleasant.

Kim looked in every direction and stopped running.  She realized that she had lost the police car.  She also realized that by running and hiding that there was no way for The Mills' to find her.  She realized her best bet was back on Speedway crouched behind the blue dumpster.  She started walking back toward Speedway.  She was in an alley about two blocks away from the store when Harley's gray Jeep Renegade roared into the alley.

 

Kim started to run and stumbled.  Amy jumped out of the passenger side and started yelling, "Kim!  It's me, Amy Mills!  I'm Charlie's wife."

Kim stopped and ran to Amy.  Amy wrapped her arms around the younger woman.  Kim was sobbing and shaking.  "I am so sorry.  I watched your husband die.  I am so sorry.  I couldn't help.  I was so scared.  I am still scared.  I am still so tired."

Amy rubbed her shoulders as cried.  "I know.  It is going to be all right.  We are all going to get through this."

Harley Baker got out of his Jeep.  He was not sure what to say or do.  He was nervous.  He had never met Kim Hines before.  This was going to be an awkward introduction.  He slowly walked toward the two women hugging and crying in the alley.

Amy stepped back and took her arms from around Kim.  She said softly to Kim, "Kim, I want you to meet a very nice man.  His name is Harley Baker.  He is here to help you.  He has been very helpful to Brooke and I."

Kim turned and looked.  She stood straight up and stared straight at Harley as he walked toward.  Kim started to shake with anger as well as fear.  She stared right into Harley's eyes as he approached and said, "You're the bastard that killed Charlie Mills!"

Amy was stunned.  "What?  You are mistaken.  You must be in shock."

Kim was getting madder, "He killed him.  There is no doubt.  I'd know that evil face anywhere.  He killed him!"

Harley lunged and grabbed a hold of Kim by her shoulders.  She yelled, "Run, Amy, run!"  Harley reached up and put his hands around her neck and started choking her.  Kim tried to fight back.  Amy ran to her side and punched Harley in the eye.  He momentarily let go of Kim and shoved Amy to the ground.  Kim turned away to run and Harley grabbed her with his left hand reached for his Glock with his right.

Amy went down in the gravelly alley and her hand landed by a baseball-sized rock.  She bounced up with the rock in her hand.  As she got to her feet, Harley had the Glock pressed against Kim's head.  Kim was screaming.  Harley dragged her with one arm toward his Jeep.  "Shut your damn mouth", Harley commanded.  "Or I'll blow your junkie head off!"

Amy froze and dropped the rock.  Harley drug Kim to the back of the Jeep Renegade and shoved her in the SUV.  He waved the Glock at Amy and said, " Come on, Amy, get in.  I don't have a lot to lose at this point, so don't test me."  Amy was frozen with fear and did not obey.

 

Vince Boyd shot through an alley and into The Speedway in Point Pleasant's parking lot.  He jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the store.  He asked the cashier she had seen anyone in the parking lot.  She told them about the police looking for a girl.  Vince came out of the store in time to hear Kim scream.  He jumped back in the truck and jerked back into an alley towards the screams.

Harley fired his Glock toward the truck.  It missed but caused a few things to happen.  First, Vince immediately stopped the truck in the alley to protect Brooke, thus blocking the way out for Harley.  Several neighbors came running out to see what was going on.  Police officer Bobby Sargent was blocks away patrolling when the shot fired brought him into the alley behind Harley.  Harley was now trapped in the alley.

 

Police officer Bobby Sargent got out and crouched by the police cruiser with his gun drawn and called for Harley to drop his weapon.  Harley shoved Amy down into the alley.  He still was waving his weapon around.  He decided he was not going to prison.  He was not going to stand trial for the murder of Charlie Mills.  With Kim in the back of his Jeep, he jerked the SUV around and headed right for the police car.  Bobby Sargent squeezed the trigger four times and Harley's windshield.  The truck had not built up much speed but plowed into the police car.  Harley slumped against the steering wheel.

Bobby Sargent took all precautions and then went to the Jeep.  Kim Hines was screaming but besides being an emotional wreck, she was physically uninjured.  Bobby knew immediately that Harley was dead, he checked the pulse which verified it.

Brooke and Amy ran to each other and embraced in a hug.  The sound of sirens filled the air as state troopers, county deputies, and ambulances arrived on the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               EPILOGUE

 

The next morning, Dakota Woods stopped by the Mills' house to wrap up the case.  He got his answers and he knew it was going to be another hectic day for Amy and Brooke Mills.  Dakota took a drink of coffee and said, "Now, this is some good coffee."  He took another drink.  "I always knew there was something that wasn't quite right with Harley Baker.  These guys set these sites up and criticize our effort.  No matter how much they say they support the police, they still criticize us when things don't go the way they want them to.  Harley was out for power or something.  After the events of last night, bits and pieces of psychotic behavior of his from over the years is coming out.  It is scary that guy had a license to carry a gun.  He's a gun nut.  People believe everything these nuts post and say and follow every word.  Just like that other nut, Alligator Jackson, he's crazy too."

Amy sighed, "I'm just glad Harley is in jail and this part is over.  As hard as that drama was, the hard part is still ahead.  I just don't know how I am going to bury my son and husband."

Dakota said, "You are stronger than you know.  You still have Brooke.  She's is a strong, young woman.  You both will be there for each other."

Brooke was sitting on the sofa next to Vince.  Brooke looked at Vince and smiled, "We have Vince now, too.  It is strange.  I lose the two closest men to me in the world but gain someone that I believe is going to walk me through the rest of my life.  Daddy was the man that got me this far and I believe Vince will get me the rest of the way.  Daddy loved Vince as well, so I know this is the way that is supposed to be."

Amy smiled faintly and said, "Don't get me wrong, Dakota.  These next months are going to be the hardest of my life.  I'm losing Charlie and Bradley.  Two of the loves of my life are both gone within twenty-four hours.  If it wasn't for Brooke, there is no way I'd make it.  But I've talked with Brooke.  We are both going to get outpatient treatment for addiction.  We are going to take classes to be an addiction counselor.  We are going to continue the work of the Recovery Man.  We are going to take up in Charlie's footsteps both the business and the website.  Charlie was going to help Huntington recover.  He can't go on now, so we are going to finish it for him.  We are going to help this city become whole.  It's getting better but all of this obviously shows we aren't there yet."

Dakota shook his head, "We are all working hard to bring Huntington back.  We are on the right track.  We got Ronnie Dixon and Lester Cane off of the streets.  I don't know which one will take the fall for Bradley's death but one of them or both of them will.  Harley is charged with Charlie's death.  It is great thing you guys did to get Kim Hines to go into treatment.  She seems to have a big heart, she just needs a chance."

Amy agreed, "We are going to check on her.  If she continues to do well, we may even let her stay here, we just have to see how things work out.  Charlie cared about her and she risked her life to see that he got justice."

Dakota stood up, "I know we all have a lot to do so I'm going to move on.  I'll be seeing you at the funeral home tomorrow.  Keep being strong and we, on the force, are here if you need us.  The community has been hurt by Charlie and Bradley's deaths and they appreciate everything Charlie has done.  It is all over the newspaper and TV about how he has helped Huntington.  The whole city is in mourning."

The mother and daughter hugged the detective.  As he left out of the front door, they watched him walk to his car.  Amy looked at Brooke and said, "He is one of the good ones, Brooke.  As long as he is on our side, we are going to help bring Huntington all the way back.  There are some good people in Huntington, Brooke.  We are going to join with them and get our city back."

Brooke hugged her mother and said, "Yes, Mother.  I believe Bradley and Daddy and all of the gentle souls we have lost during this epidemic are angels that are going to help us find our way and bring Huntington all the way back."

 

 

          THE    END