Kyle (Hope City #4) - Maryann Jordan
The word was whispered, and Kyle McBride shot a glance toward his partner sitting on the passenger side of his pickup truck. Alex Freeman’s gaze was pinned on the scene through the windshield. For both detectives of the Hope City Police Department, this was not their first rodeo. But seeing this level of poverty never got easier.
Having exited off one of the main highways that cut through Hope City, Kyle maneuvered along several streets and ramps, finally turning onto a pothole-strewn road. The word ‘road’ was a gift… more like packed dirt, crumbled asphalt, and craters. Nestled under the Highway Thirty-One Bridge, the Cardboard Cottages created a city under the city. ‘Cardboard Cottages’ was the moniker given to a makeshift neighborhood for the homeless, mentally ill, runaways, social outcasts, and drug addicts. And those were probably its good points.
The neighborhood was constructed from an amalgamation of cardboard, tarps, plywood, and corrugated tin. At one time, graffiti had covered the concrete walls of the underpass, but now only glimpses could be seen between the homemade structures.
Occasionally, a real tent was erected between the other homemade shelters. That was a new improvement—tents. The city had been working to clean up the area and disband those living there, but they always came back. So, several churches and those working with the homeless population had donated cold-weather sleeping bags and small camping tents in an effort to provide a more hospitable environment.
Hospitable. Fuckin’ hell. All it accomplished was to splash color on an otherwise dreary scene.
He parked his truck at the edge, near the first burn barrel he came to. Both men sat, their gazes scanning over the area. It didn’t pay to act in haste in a place where suspicion was in the eyes of everyone looking back, some with an added heavy dose of malice.
The weather had turned warm, but men still congregated around the burn barrels scattered about the area. A few tents were placed around the edges where families lived. Grass was a distant memory, and several children kicked a ball along the hard-packed dirt outside the tents.
A memory flashed through his mind of warm evenings spent playing ball in his family’s large backyard. Because it was connected to their neighbor’s yard and the children of the two families played together constantly, they’d joked that it was hard to grow grass between their houses. In reality, their yards were lush and well-tended compared to what he was viewing now. The cheers and laughter from times gone by were not known by these children. Desolation, hunger, cold, and fear were what these kids knew best.
The children had stopped their play, and several women alighted from the tents, gathering the children close. Knowing they feared whoever was sitting in the truck, he said, “Let’s go. With the morning they’ve had, they’re going to wonder who the fuck we are.”
A call had come in early. Three men were found dead near one of the burn barrels. The medical examiner had already examined the bodies and had them transported to the morgue for autopsies. Crime scene techs had searched the area for evidence and homicide detectives had already come and gone. By the time Kyle was called in, the initial cause of death was suspected to be an accidental overdose.
Recognizing two of the men standing near one of the burn barrels, he stalked over the litter-strewn dirt, his senses heightened. The bleak area was known to him as well as many of the long-time residents of Hope City. But he would be a fool to not keep his wits about him. Poverty and hunger often led to desperation. And the police were not seen as friends.
To a casual observer, he might not appear much different than the men he was approaching. His hair was longer on the top, slicked back away from his face. Tats peeked out from below the sleeves of his shirt. His jeans were worn, frayed at the bottom, although clean. His black T-shirt had seen better days but still fit tightly across his chest. His blue denim shirt helped to hide his body armor, but to the residents of the Cardboard Cottages, his casual-rough appearance did little to hide that he was with the police force. Of course, the light blue gloves he wore on his hands were a beacon, but he wasn’t about to go without protection. Not here, where illness ran rampant.
The men standing around the burn barrel stayed in their place, stretching their fingers out toward the warmth