“What? Are you crazy?!” Johnny’s dad, Officer David Joseph, fumed. “He can’t be doing that!”
“Doing what?” the chief asked. “… What did you hear?”
“Dead bodies,” David grumbled and then exploded, “You ask permission for him to have a soda, but not this?! I know all outward appearances will call me a liar, but he’s just a child … in his head, now, that’s what he is.” Officer Joseph yanked at his hair, as if it was a means to sorting out his thoughts, which were all thoroughly scrambled. “Wh-what you’ve done has got to be child abuse.” An involuntary spray of spit punctuated his accusing remark.
The chief wanted to smile as he wiped his cheek, but thought better of it, knowing what a likely keg of gunpowder it would be to Joseph’s fire. “David, he’s not retarded.”
Joseph’s eyes pinned the chief to the wall as his entangled thoughts rallied together. “Don’t use my own words against me. Of course he’s retarded; I … I just didn’t wanna tell myself that … but he’s retarded. He is. How … how could you? He’ll have nightmares.”
“He will. Dead body … blood splatter. He didn’t see the face, did he?”
“Well actually …”
“He did?!” Joseph was back at tugging his hair. “And you don’t think he’s going to have nightmares? Twenty years on the force and I still get them. That blankness in their eyes that suddenly seems to look at you like you’re their last hope, as if they don’t know they’re already dead, and want to stop hurting and clean themselves up and forget about it and go back to a wife or husband or kids who are waiting for them at home, back to their sanctuary in this cruel world. Damn!”
“But God is shielding him.” Unable to restrain it, the chief’s smile bloomed onto his face, causing Joseph’s forehead to buckle.
“Yes … You should have…”
“Oh no you didn’t, not that beacon thing. Tell me you didn’t contaminate his mind with that? Did you fill Johnny’s head up with that malarkey?”
“It’s not,” the chief protested. “I believe it; and you…”
“S-so you did,” Officer Joseph ogled the chief, trying to make out what he was seeing, which he’d already framed in a padded cell. “Well I hope you don’t fire me, but you’re off your rocker. I’m taking Johnny home.”
The chief decided it was best to refrain from trying to explain anymore. He knew this would be a hard battle won, and he knew only someone from behind the barriers could win it. Johnny would have to speak for himself. “David, you really have to talk to him. It’s unbeliev…”
“Oh I’ll talk to him. I’ll try to temper my language when I talk about how full of shit you are, but I’ll talk to him.” David Joseph slammed the door behind him as the unpinned portions of the billboard’s hung sheets flapped in his wake … leaving the chief still smiling … and wondering … wondering just what doors Johnny might open for his father.
(To Be Continued)