“You want to do what?”
If I hadn’t been soaking wet, tired, hungry, and completely demoralized by the crime scene I was standing in, I might have found the captain’s expression amusing. At six foot two and flirting with three hundred pounds, Captain Jamie Harris was not the sort of man who was accustomed to being caught off balance by his subordinates. More often than not he seemed to be an immovable mountain and I sometimes caught myself wondering how he ever got to where he was currently standing, since he tended to look like he had always been there.
But my words had succeeded in uprooting him and he was staring at me with wide, unblinking eyes, unsure what to do with his hands.
“I want to take her home with me,” I repeated, still not entirely believing it myself.
“Let me see if I got this right, Creed,” he said, finally stuffing his hands deep into the pockets of his trench coat. “This little girl just spent God knows how long with the pervert on the tree over there, having only God knows what done to her, and now you think I should send her home with a man who is a total stranger to her. You don’t think that would be just a little traumatizing for her?”
“She feels safe with me,” I said, looking away and offering an awkward shrug. We were standing in the living room of the house, the smell emanating from the kitchen having been slightly lessened by Officer Anderson opening up every window he could get his hands on. The result was a better smelling, colder home. “I know it’s a little… different, Captain, but -”
“Just a little?” He snorted derisively and shook his head. “Listen, Creed. I know this one has got in your head - hurt kids can do that to anyone, even you. But leave this to Child Services, all right? They know what to do, what to say, all that touchy feely crap you and I will never get. Go home, have a stiff drink, and get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
I knew he was right, but I couldn’t let it go. It was like I was being compelled by some unseen force and it wouldn’t stop pushing until Ariel was safe inside my home. I took a deep breath and tried again.
“She doesn’t want to go with them, she wants to go with me. I don’t know, maybe they were the ones that placed her here to begin with. Imagine that, Captain. Leaving her in the care of people who have already failed her?”
“That is merely speculation,” he said but I could tell he was starting to give.
“Come out to the car with me. Have a talk with her, see what she says. Maybe after you see how badly she wants to stay with me you’ll feel better about it.”
Captain Harris stared at me for a moment before dipping his head half an inch in acquiescence. I released a long breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding from my nostrils and nodded back. The rain was still coming down hard but I thought the sky was beginning to lighten to the north. Maybe it’ll sod off before dinner. Give us all a bloody break.
I led the captain to the patrol car Ariel was holed up in. I noticed that the officer waiting with her was now leaning against the opposite side of the vehicle from her, choosing the company of the rain over the victim’s. It made me angry but I held my tongue, choosing to instead wave him away. I climbed into the backseat with her and the captain eased his girth behind the steering wheel.
“Hi there, darling,” he said through the Plexiglas partition. “My name is Captain Harris, but you can just call me Captain if you like.”
Ariel stared at him before hugging her doll to her chest and turning to me.
“It’s okay,” I told her with a smile. “I know he’s bigger than a house but he’s on your side. He’s here to help you.”
“Watch your tongue,” he muttered in my direction before turning back to the girl. “Listen, darling. I heard you want to go home with Detective Creed here but I’m afraid I can’t allow that. Child Services will take proper care of you and the detective will visit you as often as you like, I’m sure.”
“No.” Her voice was quiet but determined.
“I appreciate that you like this guy, ugly mug and all, but there are certain procedures that have to be followed here,” the captain said, his clenched jaw letting me know his limited patience was wearing thin.
“No!” She shook her head furiously and hugged her doll so tightly that her knuckles went white.
“Captain,” I began but he cut me off.
“This is ridiculous - I’m not taking orders from some little girl,” he said before pausing as his eyes narrowed. He tilted his head to the right, as though he was listening to something, then shook his head. He blinked several times, like he was trying to regain his bearings. “All right, fine. She can go home with you tonight. On a trial basis.”
“She what? I mean, yes sir.” I had no idea what had caused his change of heart but I wasn’t about to question it.
“But here’s the deal,” he continued, still looking at Ariel. “The moment she’s willing to stay with anyone else, you let me know and I’ll send Child Services over to pick her up. If you have any trouble with her, she gets picked up. If even the slightest thing goes wrong, she gets picked up. Got it?”
“Don’t make me regret this Creed,” he muttered before opening his door and returning to the rain. He slammed the door shut, leaving me alone with Ariel. I looked at her with a smile which she didn’t return.
“Looks like it’s just you and me, kiddo,” I said.
“You want to do what?”