Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 21

Lost & Found

There were no messages for me when I got home from work early on Wednesday afternoon. The final truck I needed to unload that day came early. It was a smaller than usual load and I had the stock put away and the shelves restocked before three.

Mr. Hitchcock found me staring out of the open loading dock door. I was a million miles away from Hitchcock's Market.

Mr. Hitchcock said, "Go home, Clete. Find Cody. You've been pacing like a caged animal all day. Jacob and I can handle the store tomorrow, Clete. You do whatever it is you need to do. Let me know when you find him, otherwise, I'll see you when I see you."

Mr. Hitchcock put his hand on my shoulder as he spoke. As was true of most men I knew, this was as close to affection as he came, but with his touch he expressed his concern for me and for that moment, it helped..

I drove away from work more determined than ever to find Cody.

Dad drove into the driveway shortly after I did. It wasn't three thirty yet. He rarely left work before six o'clock.

I sat watching mom wipe down the counter next to the stove for the third time. Nothing was on the stove. Nothing was on the counter ready to go into the oven or to go on one of the burners.

When dad stepped into the kitchen, mom turned around to see what brought him home so early.

"Are you OK, Cletus?"

"Yes. No. I was thinking we should drive downtown. Go to places that you know he goes. Maybe you're missing each other by a few minutes. I couldn't sit at work not knowing where that boy is," dad said. "We should look for him."

"You sure this is what you want to do, dad?" I asked.

"I am. I'll drive. I can't simply ride right now," he said.

"OK," I said.

"Let me know if you find out anything," mom said, wiping between the burners on the stove.

"I'll be checking to see if Mr. Bing calls," I said. "He said he'd call if Luther finds out anything."

"I'll bring something home for dinner," dad said.

"It's the only way we'll eat tonight. I don't have a thing thawed and I spent all day... just cleaning up," mom said. "The house seems so empty, Cletus."

We started at Floyd's apartment. Dad waited in the car while I went up to knock on Floyd's door. There was no answer. I knocked three times and I waited each time. I heard no sound coming from inside the apartment. I didn't think anyone was inside.

I jotted a note down with the phone number and I slipped it into the space just above the doorknob.

"Did you check his neighbors?" Dad asked.

"He has the entire top floor. No one would see him coming or going," I said.

I went through the same routine at Vanilla's. She wasn't home. A neighbor opened the door of the apartment next door.

"Haven't seen her in a few days. It's not unusual for her to be gone a week at a time. If I see her I'll tell her you came by. Your name is?" the elderly woman asked.

"Clete. Here's my number," I said, jotting it down.

"I'll give this to her next time I see her," she said, looking at the number.

"I'm looking for Cody," I added, wanting to touch all the bases.

"I'll tell her," she said, closing the door.

"It's too early for Mr. Bing," I said, once I got back into the car. "I don't want to bother him. He seems like a very private man to me."

"Let's go by the Review," I said.

"I want to see where that is," dad said. "It's where Cody's friend performs."

"Vanilla," I said. "Yes, that's the place."

I directed my father to the club. The front door was propped open and seated on a stool just inside the door was the bouncer. I'd seen him before. His hand immediately took a place in the middle of my chest.

"I.D., junior," he said with no give in his voice.

"I need to speak to Vanilla," I said.

"Not here," he said.

"Can I speak to Big Lil?" I asked.

"Not here," he said.

"If I leave my number, can you give it to Vanilla when she comes in?" I asked.

"What do I look like? Grow up and you can come in and tell her yourself. Now scram. You're starting to annoy me."

My father got out of the car and walked into the Review. He stopped next to me.

"You can go on. Squirt here is just leaving, aren't you squirt."

"I'm squirt's father," dad said.

"Then you should know that anyone under twenty-one is not allowed in bars," he said. "The Review obeys all such laws."

"We aren't interested in drinking. We'd like some information," dad said.

"I got my orders. He needs to leave and you need to leave with him. If you want to come back for a show, you might catch Vanilla. Otherwise, buzz off," he said, sticking a flier into my father's pocket.

The flier had a list of times for the performances at the Review.

"Where to next?" dad asked, after we were back in the car.

"Call mom," I said.

Dad removed his phone from his inside pocket.

"It's me. Clete wanted to check on messages," dad said. "OK. We'll be home in a few minutes. Anything you'd like to eat? I can get a pizza. We can get Italian from that new place near the house. Chinese is probably the fastest and easiest. I can get a variety. OK. OK. See you in a half hour."

"You mind Chinese? No one has called."

"I'm not hungry, dad," I said. "Maybe some egg rolls with the hot mustard," I said, thinking my appetite might come back.

I took the bags in and set them down in the middle of the kitchen table.

"Mr. Bing called. Topsy's at eight tonight," mom said.

"Did he say anything about Cody?" I asked.

"He said what I said he said. That was it. He hung up before I could ask him about Cody,"

"Short and sweet," dad said. "I'll go with you if you want."

"I don't feel comfortable taking anyone there. I shouldn't be long. Luther may have found out something," I said.

"We'll want to know right away, so don't go driving around after you meet with Mr. Bing," dad said.

"I won't," I sad. "I've got nowhere to drive to."

I ate an egg roll and burned my mouth with the mustard. It reassured me that I was still alive. I'd been numb for days. I felt lost and empty at the same time. They were feelings I didn't recognize.

After eating most of my egg roll, I went upstairs to take a shower. I still smelled like Hitchcock's market and I didn't want to go to Mr. Bing's smelling like a longshoreman.

I parked next to a silver Mercedes parked next to the side door of Topsy's. The side door was unlocked. I turned the knob and used my shoulder on it. It creaked and dragged on the floor as it opened.

A third chair had been added to the decor of Mr. Bing's office. He indicated I should sit down. Mr. Bing got up after I sat down. He brought me a root beer, handing Luther a bottle of Sam Adams. He sat down and unscrewed the top on the bottle of mineral water and he took a drink.

"Luther just got here. We hardly exchanged pleasantries when we heard your pickup. We'll hear this together," Mr. Bing said.

Luther nodded at me. I nodded back. Even seated he was a head taller than me.

"I arrived at Mr. Dollar's door at eight fifty-three this morning. I knocked. Once I was sure no one was inside, I let myself in," Luther said.

"How'd you do that?" I asked.

"Trade secret. Needless to say, I didn't use a key, but we'll refer to it as letting myself in. That way I avoids certain legal technicalities. Had i not let myself into Mr. Dollar's apartment, we wouldn't know the sequence of events that took place there Saturday afternoon. It was obvious that paramedics had visited. There was packaging consistent with what might be left behind by paramedics when they make a visit to someone's apartment," Luther said.

"I went to the first floor and knocked on one of the doors there. I got lucky and a middle aged man answered one of the two doors. The paramedics were there between two and three Saturday afternoon. They put Mr. Dollar in the back of the emergency vehicle. An unidentified young man approximately Cody's age and fitting his description got into the vehicle once Mr. Dollar was inside. I thanked the man and I called the closest rescue squad. They transported Floyd to Memorial. They arrived at Mr. Dollar's apartment at two thirty-seven and departed at two forty-nine. He was wheeled into the emergency room at Memorial at two fifty-six. Cody was with him and he insisted on staying with Floyd in spite of attempts to get him to stay in the waiting room."

"Sounds like Cody," I said.

Mr. Bing smiled but he added nothing. He apparently knew how to receive a report from Luther Small. I was new at such things.

"Mr. Dollar was in respiratory stress. He's made seven visits to the same emergency room in the past three years. They gave him treatment that worked previously and they scheduled him to go to the ICU. Cody was not allowed in the ICU. He was last seen at around four-thirty in the afternoon Saturday. It was the last visual sighting of the boy who left Floyd's in the EMT wagon," Luther said, taking a long pull on his beer.

"I picked up his trail at Vanilla's apartment. According to Edith Hessman, a neighbor, she heard Vanilla and a boy fitting Cody's description talking at the door to Vanilla's apartment Saturday afternoon or evening. She thought it was around six, because she was watching reruns of M*A*S*H that come on cable at that time," Luther said.

"Edith opened her door to say hello to Vanilla, but they'd gone inside. She'd seen Cody enough and she'd heard his voice often enough to know he was the one with Vanilla. She did not hear anything else from the vicinity of Vanilla's apartment. If they came or went, she didn't hear them they arrived on Saturday, but she's a sound sleeper and she watches television in the evening."

"I think I talked to her earlier today," I said. "She couldn't tell me anything, except Vanilla wasn't at home."

"It took a few minutes to get her to fess up," Luther said. "She didn't tell me much at first but once I explained why I was inquiring, she was forthcoming with what she knew. I drank two cups of weak coffee and I ate two extra sweet cookies in order to accomplish this. There's no end to what a lonely old lady will tell you if you'll drink her coffee and eat her cookies. She bakes them for her grand kids, 'But they never come by,'" Luther said.

Mr. Bing and I laughed. I could learn a thing or two from Luther about interviewing someone. I never thought to ask for cookies.

"Cody?" Mr. Bing asked.

"I'm getting there, boss. I want you to know I followed the trail the boy left for me. He was at Vanilla's Saturday night," Luther said.

"You are the most methodical private dick I know, Luther. We want to know where Cody is right now," Mr. Bing explained. "You can give us the details once you tell us that."

"How many private detectives do you know, Bing?"

"Beside the point, Luther. I use you because you know your business. I have no need for more than that," Mr. Bing said.

"It took a bit of footwork to get the lead I needed," Luther said.

Mr. Bing sighed. "Sorry that I interrupted you. Go on, Luther."

"Vanilla had a dress rehearsal at the Review Sunday morning. The boy carried one of her gowns into the club for her. She carried another gown and one for one of the other performers. Vanilla makes the gowns that she performs in. As they were hanging up the gowns in a space provided for them, all hell broke loose. This took a bit of digging to get it out of Big Lil, the owner of the club. I assured her I'd twist one of her tits off if she didn't come clean. If you saw Big Lil, you'd see how this might be a major undertaking. I don't like using such threats, but people tend to believe me when I say I might pull, break, or twist something off their person," Luther explained. "In this case size does matter."

Mr. Bing began to chuckle at the prospect.

"Big Lil was not there at the time the cops raided the joint, but she assured me she carefully gathered the facts and made certain her attorney had them. From her description of events, Vanilla didn't react well to an officer Lansdale arresting Cody for being under age and in an establishment that sells alcohol. The story Big Lil swears by, Vanilla came between officer Lansdale and Cody. She tried to explain that Cody was assisting her in taking a gown into the entertainment area. The bar wasn't open and it was separated from the entertainment area by a locked gate," Luther said. "As with most cops, he didn't want to hear it. He knocked Vanilla to the floor, put cuffs on her, saying she was under arrest for, 'interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duty."

"Lansdale?" Bing asked.

"He's the same one who arrested Cody before," Luther said.

"Cody?" Mr. Bing asked.

"He was taken to the central lockup. No one there could tell me anything. Officer Lansdale refused to speak with me, but a twenty got me the news that late Sunday night, more like early Monday, Cody was transported to the juvenile detention center in town. It's walking distance from the jail," Luther said. "They didn't want him at the jail over night. He was not booked into the jail, printed, or photographed. That information came with the Andrew Jackson I offered as an incentive," Luther said. "Cops!"

"It took another twenty to find out he was shipped to the county juvenile facility early yesterday morning. This is done because of over crowding at the city facility. It's also done when a police officer wants to keep a prisoner from reaching out to get help. No telling what they told Cody, but he should have been asking for his complimentary phone call that comes with lodging at the cop shop."

"Why transport him to a place they know is overcrowded? Why not simply send him to the county facility straight away?" Bing asked.

"Twenty dollars only buys you so much, boss. I drove out to the county facility. They'd neither confirm or deny that they were holding Cody," Luther said.

"Makes no sense to me. Why send him somewhere to simply transport him somewhere else?"

Bing asked the question that didn't have an answer.

"Welcome to the American justice system. They don't need a reason to do what they do once they got you. It is one more move than was necessary, but I got no information on why it was handled the way it was," Luther said. "When I got to the county facility, approximately two hours ago, I called you, Bing, they would neither confirm or deny that he was on the premises. At this time I called Judge Greer and I explained there was a situation involving Cody. He took my number and said he'd call me right back. Since I called him, he assumed it was a legal problem, and he knew who to call."

"Judge Greer," Mr. Bing said. "A blast from the past."

"He called me back fifteen minutes later. Cody was being held as a juvenile offender and no court date had been set, There were no charges. He was described as a delinquent minor child," Luther said.

"He's locked up," Bing said.

"He is," Luther said. "There was no court date but Judge Greer assured me that he would call with any information he could glean. He was anxious to help. He's such a cooperative sort."

"Do you still have the pictures of him letting Cody out of his Lincoln with the vanity tags, Greer hanging on the back of it?"

"He does. He's retired but he assured me he'd find out the details and pass them on to me and he was more than happy to do it," Luther said. "I didn't question the reliability of the last comment."

"I bet he is," Mr. Bing said. "You didn't threaten to twist anything off the honorable Judge Greer, did you, Luther?"

"Just his reputation. He's a good hearted old fart, once you slip in behind the arrogance."

"Nothing like pictures to get someone to see the light," Mr. Bing said.

"What happens now?" I asked.

"We wait for the Honorable Henry Greer to do his thing," Luther said. "Once they set a court date and a judge, I can tickle the system as much as I know how to do. Until then, we wait," Luther said.

"It doesn't hurt it's Lansdale again. We can claim harassment. It's been almost two years since the last time he arrested Cody, but those boys don't ever forget someone slipping out of their grip. Judge Greer greased the wheels to get Cody released, but he's retired now, and that makes it an entirely different ball game," Mr. Bing said.

"You seem to be familiar with the players," I said.

"Two years ago, Cody was going out with a guy in a Lincoln that picked him up on Sunday's after church. One day Officer Lansdale sees Cody getting out of the judges Lincoln. He lets the judge go on his way but he arrests Cody. Being a juvenile, there is no push back on his arrest. There's no one to speak on Cody's behalf because he's a juvenile and CPS (Child Protective Services) has taken custody, but Officer Lansdale doesn't know Cody has friends who object to him being harassed. He's just another street kid to Lansdale," Mr. Bing said. "Cody has an excellent memory, and he's noticed the vanity tags on the Lincoln too, as it drives away after he's dropped off. He tells Luther the car he got out of when he was arrested. Luther does his thing and he suddenly makes a new and very helpful friend. Luther be good at making friends, huh Luther."

"I do be good at it. Judge Greer," Luther said. "Nice old fart. I thought he was going to have a coronary the first time I approached him. I told him about Cody's arrest. I told him that Officer Lansdale could read a vanity plate as easy as Cody could. If Cody ended up in court, Officer Lansdale would be forced to say what car he saw Cody getting out of if he intended to make him for prostitution. If the officer was absentminded, in other words, if he wanted to stay a cop, Cody wouldn't be asked for the information. Besides, no upstanding judge would put another judge in jeopardy if it could be avoided."

"You blackmailed a judge?" I asked.

"Heavens no. I merely pointed out the likelihood that the judge's good name might come up in court should Lansdale proceed with prosecuting Cody on prostitution charges. I assured the good judge that I was keeping safe a series of 8x10s of Cody exiting out of his car, as long as Cody was kept safe," Luther said. "Even in the hands of juvenile authorities the arrest was academic. Cody was a juvenile who had been caught on the street, making him a delinquent minor child."

"If Cody was in custody when you found out about his arrest, how did you get pictures of him getting out of that judge's car?"

"You ever think of being a private investigator. The judge wasn't able to pick up on that, or he thought we were working with Cody to blackmail his clients, but there were no 8x10s, except the ones I planted in the judge's mind," Luther said. "A judge doesn't want to take a chance on a thing like that. A cop is easy. A cop wants to keep being a cop. It's all that needs to be said if someone like Lansdale puts someone like Greer in jeopardy. Judges are powerful folks with a long reach. Cops aren't going to push on a judge if it isn't something substantial," Luther said. "A kid getting out of the judges car could be his nephew."

"The judge made sure Cody was no longer hassled by the cops, but Lansdale couldn't pass up an open and shut case involving a juvenile, a nightclub, and a chance to settle an old score. Some people never learn," Luther said. "I couldn't get to Cody to tell him we have his back. CPS is not giving out any information about his disposition. I'm told that the usual procedure is to have a hearing about what to do with Cody. Greer is talking to the head of CPS sometime tonight. He'll call me when he has something to report. Until then, I'm in a holding pattern, and that's where we stand, boss."

"So he's been locked up since Sunday afternoon," Mr. Bing said.

"First at police headquarters, then the in town juvenile facility, and now, at the county juvenile facility. He was moved Monday and again yesterday. I have no contacts at the county facility. I'll be looking for a way to buy some information but It's possible Greer can do us some good before we need to stir the pot to see what floats to the top."

"They might let him go?" I asked.

"I wouldn't place any bets on that happening. CPS is hardcore. Some of those folks are truly there to help kids but more are there to keep them out of sight. A juvenile has no rights if he's a street kid. They sweep them up and they disappear into the system. With an attorney, Cody should be OK, but there are no guarantees," Luther said. "Juvenile facilities are a black hole. They're a little like the roach motel. You check in but you don't check out until you're eighteen."

"Which, in this case, isn't happening," Mr. Bing said.

"This judge doesn't come through by tonight, we're going to move to get him out of there. I'm not exactly rubbing shoulders with the kind of attorney's that can take on CPS. They want to ruin that kid, they'll keep him locked up. He won't survive it. Cody doesn't respond well to closed spaces," Mr. Bing said. "I don't know he trusts adults that much. He has every right to suspect adults don't have his best interest at heart. He's made it this far on his own and with a little help from his friends. I want that to continue. Luther, I need you to make sure it continues."

"I'll do my best, boss," Luther said. "I've got people taking a close look at Officer Lansdale. He's been around a while. I'd be surprised if he isn't just a little tiny bit dirty. If he is, I'll find out, and then we have a whole 'nother ball game. Squeezing a judge is risky. Squeezing a cop, that be good old fashion fun."

"Don't get too excited, Luther. Let's try to get this resolved before we need to squeeze anyone. We're trying to help Cody," Mr. Bing said.

"I don't know much about what's gone on before but I know one thing, without you, Mr. Bing, Cody wouldn't be doing as well as he's doing. He lights up when he's around you. You've taught him a lot and he eats it up from what I can see," I said. "Music has become one of his great loves."

"Amen to that, Bing. You have done that boy a world of good," Luther said. "No telling where he'd be without you."

"Let's get him his freedom back and then you can pat me on the back. A job half done is not a success story," Mr. Bing said.

I had nothing to add to that. I'd been waiting for news that would tell me what I needed to do to get Cody back into my life. I saw no obvious pathway in what Luther brought us.

"How can I get to see Cody?" I asked.

Luther looked at Mr. Bing and Mr. Bing looked at me. No one answered my question.

"CPS has him. It's not like he has rights. He's not eighteen. They have jurisdiction over him. There aren't visiting hours like he's in jail. He's being held at a juvenile facility. CPS has taken jurisdiction over him. They call the shots. He will have a case worker, not a lawyer. We have no access to him without CPS permission," Luther said.

"The last thing Cody needs is for an old black trumpet player who drank too much and chased too many women to come to the rescue. You want to make sure he doesn't get released from juvie, that's where you'd start," Mr. Bing said with a strange wisdom in his words.

"So his best ally becomes an unsuitable role model for Cody," Luther said. "It's a strange way to run a railroad."

"What can we do in the way of an attorney?" Mr. Bing asked. "They can't deny him representation if someone provides it. That way they'll know his rights will be protected."

"The attorneys I deal with wear sharkskin suits and they're packing," Luther said.

"I just want to see him. I want to tell him we'll get him out of there," I said.

"Look around the first thing in the morning," Mr. Bing said. "Find us some cleaner than clean attorney who can go to court and not start a riot. Someone low profile, Luther, but someone smart. Cody needs to get out of there before they ruin him. Maybe hang around the courthouse in the morning. Ask about where to find a clean cut attorney."

"I'm on it boss. I'll call our judge. The last thing he wants is for Cody to be kept in custody for an extended period of time. I've never threatened Judge Greer. It's been two years since we did business with him. I told him as long as Cody stayed safe, I'd protect those pictures with my life. Since they haven't surfaced, he knows the game and he knows I am a man of my word. I'm thinking he might know a good attorney who has appeared in front of him. I'll tell him what we need to get done," Luther said. "I'll let him figure out how we need to do it."

"Don't cross any lines, Luther. Keep our relationship cordial. He might have some influence with another judge. We might need him to speak up on Cody's behalf," Mr. Bing said.

"We'll see," Luther said. "In my opinion, that's a stretch. I'll ask him for advice. He was a judge for thirty years. He's seen it all."

"I can't see him?" I asked again.

"Cool your tool, son. This isn't like he's in jail and has rights to an attorney and regular visits. I'll find a way to get you a visit, but they'll resist any outside influence having access to him that isn't a direct member of his family. I could say I'm his uncle," Mr. Bing said. "But I'm not the kind of uncle you want vouching for you in court. I haven't always been the mild mannered man you see before you."

"You can say that again, Bing. You were a hell raiser," Luther said. "And I've only known you for twenty years. I can't imagine what you were like before you turned forty."

"I was a musician who knew how to have a good time," Mr. Bing said.

My father sat listening to jazz in the music room. He had a fresh cup of coffee in his hand. My mother sat in her recliner beside his. She was reading a book. They both came to attention when I appeared at the door.

"Did you learn anything?" Dad asked, turning the music to a level where we could talk over it.

"CPS has Cody. He was picked up at the Review on Sunday morning. They also arrested Vanilla. Floyd is in the hospital. I guess I should start at the beginning. Luther, Mr. Bing's private detective, was thorough. He went to the places we went to earlier in the day, only he came away with the answers I didn't get," I said.

"He must know his business," dad said. "Tell me everything."

For the next half hour I told the story of what I'd learned at Topsy's that evening. Dad finished his coffee while he listened. Mom put down her book to hear what I had to say."

"I don't care if he's an infant, they can't deny Cody an attorney. Most of those kids CPS takes custody of don't have anyone to fight for their rights. Some of those folks are well intentioned. They'd like to help those kids, but they don't have the resources to feed, clothe, educate, and keep the kids safe. I don't know the law, but I know one thing, Cody has people who do care about him and caring means doing whatever we need to do for him," Dad said. "I need to make a call. I know just the man whose mind I want to pic= on the law."

My father picked up his phone and he hit one key and he waited.

"Grant, Thomas. Did I catch you at a bad time? Good. I have a problem. We've have a young man living with us. Cody is close to my son. He works at Hitchcock's Market with Clete. He was taken into custody this past Sunday and we've just found out where he is. I need to know what his rights are. I need someone to appear in court to speak up for him when his case comes up. Can you assist me on this?" dad asked.

The phone call lasted ten minutes.

Morgan Grant agreed to look into the law and he would represent Cody in any court proceedings. He was a corporate lawyer for dad's firm, but he did trial work for two years after he finished law school and got his license to practice law.

Things were moving forward without me being able to do anything for Cody. I was left with nothing to do but wait.

I waited all my life for Cody and now he was out of reach.

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