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Lost Souls

by Gary Clifton

I’ll call him Sammy, but that wasn’t his name. Sammy was a 51-year old, East Dallas dime-bag dealer with a six-page sheet and three trips inside.

Success with a Molotov is an inexact business. More often than not, either the perp misses or is immolated, or the window or the bottle doesn’t break. The aftermath is usually an easy clean-up.

But Sammy found a sweet spot. His wine bottle Molotov penetrated the bedroom window of Slinger, a rival dealer, and reduced him to a cinder the way the TV cops say it will. We were able to cart his remains away in a single plastic bag. But lucky happenstance doesn’t always translate to success. Sammy had driven his old F150 over there, chunked in the death by fire, waddled back to his truck and fled.

The Dallas Central alarm Office called me, an ATF agent, and Jim Goldman — not his real name either — of Dallas Homicide. Then the Gods of ill fortune stuck Sammy in the vital area. A neighbor saw the truck license plate and, incredibly, not only wrote it down but gave it to us. By midday, we had two partially reliable “citizens” who told us Sammy had bragged around the neighborhood he was “gonna roast Slinger’s ass.”

By seven or so that evening, we had Sammy’s current address and an arrest warrant charging him with murder. A warrant of arrest allows for forcible entry if the arresting officers have reasonable cause to believe the subject of the warrant is on the premises. That’s what we did.

Identification under stress is always a problem. Sammy knew me from a previous encounter and should have recognized me on sight. However, standard common-sense procedure was to call for uniformed patrol officers to assist so the arrestee couldn’t start shooting and claim he didn’t know plainclothes cops were cops.

The address was in a small rundown duplex at midblock. Lights were on at around nine o’clock. We sent one uniform to the back and told the other to stay in the doorway when we kicked the door. As we approached, rhythmic deeps grunts and corresponding high-pitched shrieks from inside caused somebody to remark that we’d caught Sammy in a vulnerable state. We had, all right, in spades.

“Makes him more pliable,” Goldman, a Red Harper prototype, said as he kicked the door. The entire doorframe crashed to the living room floor behind a naked Sammy sodomizing a similarly naked tow-headed kid of maybe ten bent over a filthy sofa. Goldman backhanded the nasty old monster into a corner. Sammy, a formidable street brawler in his own right, started back up. A kick to the midsection and the fight was over. Yep, police brutality in living color.

The kid, slender and pale, ran screaming into the only other room, a small kitchen. I followed, disgusted by the blood and feces trailing down his legs. The kitchen floor was slippery wet. The pathetic child yanked at an overhead cabinet, his eyes a combination of hurt, fear, and hatred. I flinched, stepping back to the relative cover of the doorway. Was this kid going to shoot me?

From the cabinet, the boy pulled out an ugly little white cat, clutched it to his chest, and in a voice I would never be able to describe in words, said, “You sumbitches take Pete, they’ll put me in the home, and I’ll lose my kitty.” The word “kitty” trailed off into a wail like a wounded, dying animal.

Time tends to harden humans to almost anything. It wasn’t even close to my worst case. But for not nearly the first time, I stumbled into blasphemy: “God, where are you? How could you...?” Under the True Believer’s rule book, Sammy would get his at the ultimate end, but what the hell had the kid done?

Then I smelled and recognized the cause of the wet floor – a cardboard box in a corner. Converted to use as a litter box, it had failed. Piles of cat feces lined the baseboard. A cushion, probably stolen from an apartment patio, lay tossed in another corner. It was covered with a wet beach towel, probably from the same apartment complex. I reached down. Both were soaked in what had to be at least partial cat urine. The kid, in his soft voice said, “I made that into a pallet to sleep on.” The stench was overpowering. My God, the kid slept on the floor in that.

EMT’s showed up, and we agreed the kid could get a full rape damage assessment while in proper custody. We called Child Protective Services with both the kid wailing and Sammy cussing at full volume in the background. They told us to transport the kid to the County Juvenile Center for the night. Goldman told the patrol officers to carry Sammy to the Sterrett Center and make no mention of the child abuse.

With the kid clutching the cat, Goldman and I fed the kid a grease-burger and dropped him at Juvvie just past midnight. I chunked the cat into my car trunk. I promised I’d be back first thing in the morning. When I got back at around seven, the dayshift supervisor told me the kid had gone over the fence into the night.

“We’ve had him in here before,” he said. “I can give you his name, but it’s phoney. We got his fingerprints, but he’s too young to have a sheet. We got no idea who the hell he really is.”

I drove down to the Sterrett Center. Sammy dummied up, and I figured but never proved that the kid was a stray and no relation. A lost kid desperate enough to sleep with a not-housebroken cat on a chair cushion saturated with cat piss, sharing a roof with a man capable of an act most humans can’t get their mind around is quite a chattel to justify hanging onto the edge of existence.

Despite the warning to the uniforms to disclose nothing of the rape, word gets around in a jail with often supernatural ease. In the layers of jailhouse hierarchy, child molesters are several marks below dead level; inmates have kids and siblings. Sammy caught a shank in the shower that afternoon: fatally. He was one of several I helped plant whose body was never claimed. The med school used him for spare parts, finally a positive in a world he had never joined. We wondered if he’d contaminated the formaldehyde tank.

I kept the kid’s prints for years. I ran them through NCIC many times. Fingers grow, but prints don’t change. I sent copies to every state prison system. The morning he’d gone over the fence, I checked the entire perimeter and found no blood sample. If he’d showed up as a John Doe, his prints would have been in the system. But the kid was gone, disappeared into a bureaucracy so vast and cumbersome that the brass figures losing only a few is success.

That cat lived around our place for many years, well after my children were in or had finished college. I figured that since I never found a trace of the kid, he didn’t make it that far. Did he run out of luck and end up in a shallow grave somewhere? Maybe he was floated down the Trinity in a garbage bag? I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d taken him home that night instead of the cat. Or maybe both.

Copyright © 2020 by Gary Clifton

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