A boy stood before him, no more than seventeen years behind him, a scrap of a boy, with blood-stained clothing and bruised skin, broken in places. Blood trickled from his nose. Their latest hopeful candidate was as delicate as he was naïve, still possessing a darkly idealistic edge to his convictions that rendered him, in Snake's eyes, appealing, congenial, enjoyable, amusing. He was not a merry ball of the finest sunshine, distilled from droplets of rainbow droppings or some such nonsensical concoction: He was pure in the way that only a broken man could be pure.
No, not a man. He was a child. He stood before him a child, small and frail and filled with fright. Trembling like a willow leaf, he barely dared lift his eyes to meet Snake's, his leader's, his official master's eyes.
Snake's right brow rose slowly, meticulous in its movements, as he regarded the piddling individual before him, aware that he had not yet realized the worth that had been extended to him by the warmth of their embrace. He was a paltry creation, pitiful and weak, but Snake could see the shapes that were there for him to fill, the corners of himself that he had not yet discovered, where it was dark and musty and dank and cold. When he reached those corners, when he filled himself out completely, gone would this delicate creature be, and the boy would emerge a beast, a transformation they had all undergone. He would be of use to them, then, and he would be lost.
A pang of mourning for the inevitable loss of innocence shot through him, before it was stifled. Not forgotten, but deemed insignificant.
He nodded. It was only the briefest of gestures, eyes meeting those of one of his most trusted members (it didn't signify much but some semblance of power within the gang's own hierarchy; the man had proven himself worthy of this over the years), and the thug, so offensive to anyone's more delicate sensibilities, stepped forward with the most idiotic grin on his face and patted the beaten boy on the shoulder. For a moment, it seemed the child might crumble and fall, but he stood his ground. Their falling fists and crushing kicks had beaten some small part out of him already, it would seem.
The boys were quick to offer their congratulations, bestowing their laudation upon him, pulling him into their midst with grins and laughter and the most double-edged of kind words. (Ridicule was expected. It was of principal importance.) Snake slipped away while they spiralled into moronic displays, made himself unnoticed as he made for the door out of the main area of the warehouse and went outside - slithered, one could say.
Outside, he edged near the corner of the building and stood under the light from a flickering streetlamp. Leaned against the brick wall, he found a pre-rolled cigarette and brought it to his lips, drawing deeply as he tilted his head back and stared up at the flickering light. For a few moments, he stood there in accumulating dusk, watching the light that couldn't choose between off and on and listening to the muffled sounds of celebration from inside the old building. When the time came to exhale, he started to move, slipping around the corner and making his slow way down the length of the warehouse, heading toward where he already heard the waves breaking against the docks.
This was always the hard part of his job. It wasn’t the lying and cheating husbands and wives. It wasn’t the paranoid neighbours. It wasn’t the suspicious employers. It was the families, so utterly bereft at the thought that one of their own was gone for good. The people who have been brought to the brink of hope and are beginning to grasp at straws to find the last glimmer. A mother’s desperate pleas to ’find my baby b-boy’, and a father’s resolution to kill anyone that might have hurt him. The sniffling of the little sister, sat wide eyed at the bottom of the stairs as she tries to make sense of what’s happened to her big brother and best friend. It was having to be witness to that that Mitch would always find the hardest thing. And it was perhaps the reason why, on these types of cases, he actually pulled his finger out and got to work without leaving everything to the very end.
Much to the amazement of those he lived with, Mitch was actually up at a time even normal people would deem early. By the time Sammy was leaving for his shift at the hospital, the dark haired young man was already out of the door. And yes, his time had initially been spent in the coffee shop with almond croissants and a latte, but he wasn’t resting on his laurels. His laptop had been open in front of him and – mindful not to cover the keyboard with crumbs – he was busy researching. Anything and everything he could to do with James Dunwell. School website articles and social networking sites. He was trying to build up a picture of the teenager – one that didn’t come from the rose tinted glasses his parents wore, and one that wasn’t tainted with the thought the police might have had about the reason for his disappearance. In this, as in all of his cases, he was starting from the bottom and working his way up.
James, it seemed, was a happy enough kid. Or had been. Something had changed in the last few months – that was easy enough to see when you read his Facebook page. He seemed more sullen – more introspective. It was enough to have Mitch believing that James’ disappearance was down to the boy himself, and not the result of something more untoward. Which meant he was going to have to go on the hunt for a runaway that more than likely wouldn’t want to be found. As far as he could make out, the kid was still in Bishop, which definitely helped matters. But it was unlikely he was still on the West Side. If Mitch had to bet any money on it, he’d definitely place him somewhere on the East. And thus to the East he went.
Three days later, and Mitch was fairly sure he’d found what he was looking for. Unfortunately, it was probably the last thing that James’ parents would want to here. As far the PI could tell, the runaway was indeed a runaway, and his new group of ‘friends’ was for more like a gang than any loving mother would care her son to have. The mystery was thus solved. Mitch’s part in proceedings was technically over – he’d found the boy, it wasn’t in his contract to go plucking him out of the viper’s nest. For a viper’s nest it surely was – this was Silver Snake’s territory…
A movement from the corner of his eye caught Mitch’s attention, curls moving in the breeze as he turned his head to seek it out. It was foolish to think that it would be James, but you never knew. It was with widening eyes behind the dark rimmed glasses that he took in the sight before him. A ghost of childhood past and no mistake. A ghost to be followed.
Moving towards the docks, still in the shadow of the blonde haired man ahead of him, Mitch finally found himself close enough to speak up. ”Adrian?”