Javier Esposito was reviewing a file with his partner Ryan, trying to come up with new leads when his direct line rang.
“Esposito,” he answered.
“This is McNeil at the front desk. I’m calling about a minor named Joey Malone. Do you know him?”
Shifting closer to the phone, Esposito said, “Yeah, I know him. What happened?”
“He asked me to call you. He’s been brought in for pickpocketing.”
“Damn it,” Esposito muttered as he stood. “Has he been processed yet?”
“No, it’s busy today. He just arrived.”
“Who’s the arresting officer?”
“I’ll be right there.” He hung up a little harder than necessary.
“What’s wrong?” Ryan asked.
“Remember that kid Joey Malone?”
Ryan smiled. “The one who gave you the slip?”
Refusing to dignify that with a response, Esposito said, “He was just brought in. I’ve got to go deal with this.”
“What does he have to do with our case?”
“Then why do you have to deal with it?”
Esposito sighed. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the kid to make sure he stays in school and out of trouble.”
“You have?” Ryan frowned, wondering why he hadn’t heard anything about it.
“Cover for me?”
“Sure. Of course.” As his partner turned to go, Ryan said, “But when you get back, I want to hear the story.”
Esposito went downstairs, and spotted Joey immediately. The kid was cuffed and sitting on one of the plastic chairs in the hallway waiting to be processed. With determination in his stride, Esposito went to stand directly in front of the boy.
Joey sat up straight when he saw Esposito walking towards him, and tried to gauge exactly how pissed the detective was. He’d been trying to come up with a good start to his explanation, so he could get the man on his side before Esposito talked to the prick who’d arrested him. But when Joey saw the glare Esposito was directing his way, all of his brilliant ideas went out the window. Once the man was in front of him, Joey looked down at his own cuffed hands and muttered, “Hey.”
The older man leaned down slightly and said, “Look at me.”
Reluctantly, Joey brought his eyes back up.
“Did you do it?” Esposito asked.
“It’s not what you think, I was - …”
“Save the explanation for later,” Esposito said, cutting the kid off. “Did you do it?”
Esposito saw a flash of anger cross the kid’s face, before his expression shifted into shame. Joey averted his eyes. “Yeah,” he replied softly.
“Okay, sit tight. I’m going to go talk to the arresting officer, and then you’ll have a chance to tell me your side of the story.”
“Wait!” Joey said, not liking the idea of the officer getting to tell his side of the story first. “I was giving the wallets back! I didn’t pocket any of the cash, I swear.”
The man leaned down further, so that their faces were only a foot apart. “If you weren’t keeping the money, then what the hell were you doing?”
Slouching down in his chair, away from the intimidating face, Joey said, “Remember me telling you about Renee?”
“Renee… The girl in your English class?”
The kid nodded and muttered, “I was showing her I could do it.”
Esposito closed his eyes, stood up straight, and took a deep breath to try and calm down. He told himself he should be relieved that the kid wasn’t actually trying to steal, but the thought of Joey showing off his criminal skills to impress a girl made his blood boil. He pointed a finger in the boy’s face, and said, “Stay put,” before turning to go find Officer Kramer.
Joey watched the man walk across the station, and start a conversation with the officer who had brought him in. He couldn’t hear the discussion over the noise of the bullpen, but he could see them clearly. The two men shook hands, greeting each other with friendly smiles. A few seconds later, Esposito pointed a finger in Joey’s direction, and Officer Kramer’s gaze followed. His eyes met Joey’s for a moment, lingering briefly before returning to the detective. Thirty seconds later, Kramer nodded, and after another short exchange, both men headed his way.
Joey sat up in his chair, wondering if it could have been that easy for the detective to get him released. It seemed like a long shot, but the man did kept surprising him. He wasn’t used to being around an adult that actually followed through on promises, but Esposito hadn’t broken one yet, and the man had promised to watch out for him.
Joey shifted in his chair when the two men were both towering over him. Officer Kramer crossed his arms. “Detective Esposito assures me that this will never happen again. Is that true?”
Joey nodded furiously. “Yes Sir. It’ll never happen again.”
Kramer dug some keys out of his pocket, and unlocked Joey’s handcuffs while he spoke. “The guy you stole from decided not to press charges, so I’m releasing you with a warning this time.”
“Thanks,” Joey said, rubbing his free wrists.
“If I’d found any other wallets on you, we’d be having a much different conversation right now,” Kramer warned.
“I know.” Joey stood up, feeling better about the whole situation.
Kramer looked over at Esposito, who gave him a nod and held out his hand. The two men shook, and then Kramer turned to Joey and said, “I don’t want to see you in here again.”
“You won’t,” Joey assured him, as Kramer headed back to his desk.
Once the officer was out of hearing range, Joey looked at Esposito with awe. “I can’t believe you got me off the hook so fast.”
“Oh, you’re not off the hook.” Esposito grabbed Joey’s upper arm, and started to pull him towards the exit.
“Aw, come on man,” the kid whined. The last thing Joey wanted was a long lecture full of disappointment from the man he’d come to think of as a friend.
“It’s one o’clock on a Friday. Why aren’t you in school?”
“I didn’t skip,” Joey said indignantly. “It’s a furlough day.”
Esposito shook his head, pulled the kid out the front door, and headed towards his car. “So you decided lifting wallets was the best way to spend your day off?”
“It wasn’t like that. I was just hanging out with my friends.”
Many sarcastic retorts popped into the detective’s head, but he held his tongue. When they got to his car, he let go of the kid. He unlocked the car, then pointed to the passenger seat. “Get in.”
Joey sighed, rolled his eyes, and got in the car.
Esposito took a deep breath, and told himself that throttling the kid before getting the whole story was a bad idea.
Once Esposito had pulled into traffic, he said, “I want the full story. Don’t leave anything out, because I can track down your friends to corroborate if I don’t believe you.”
The boy groaned at the idea of the detective talking to his friends. If any of them knew that a cop felt the need to keep tabs on him, they’d all laugh at him, especially if they found out that Joey actually enjoyed it when the older man called to check on him.
“Now!” Esposito barked, when no explanation was forthcoming.
“I met up with Bryce at the park after lunch, and Renee was there with her friend Jenny. We’d never seen them at our park before, so we went to say hi. Bryce was showing them some tricks on his skateboard, and Renee asked me if I could do any on mine. Then Bryce
told them that I did tricks with my hands, not my feet.”
Joey sunk lower in his seat, embarrassed all over again. He glanced at the detective and said, “You know how that sounds right? I mean ‘tricks with my hands’ could mean…”
Esposito rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I get it. Everything can be turned into a sexual innuendo when you’re fifteen.”
“Right, so Renee is standing there, staring at me and my hands, and I just started babbling like a damn idiot. I told her all about the parties and how I used to steal stuff for Shane.” Joey shook his head. “She didn’t believe me. She laughed and said, ‘Yeah right.’ So… I proved it.”
Joey heard Esposito sigh, and knew that the man at least understood his motives, even if he didn’t agree with his actions.
“I take it you didn’t get caught the first time.”
Joey shook his head.
“How many did you take?”
“And you gave them all back?”
“Yes.” Joey sat up a little straighter, wanting to make this part of the story very clear. “I cased a hot dog stand in the park for a few minutes, and decided it would work. I’d lift someone’s wallet as soon as they paid, and show it to the girls. Then one of them would chase down the mark and give it back to him a block or two later, telling him he’d left it at the stand.”
“So after the first time, why’d you keep doing it?”
“We were having fun, and it was harmless.”
“Harmless?” The detective gripped the steering wheel hard to keep his hand from smacking the back of the kid’s head.
“We weren’t hurting anyone.”
The detective grit his teeth, and counted to ten. “How’d you get caught?”
“That jerk Kramer likes hot dogs.”
Esposito smacked the back of Joey’s head.
“Hey!” the kid protested, crowding against the passenger door, holding up his hands to ward off any more blows that might come.
“That ‘jerk’ is a well-respected officer, and he just let you off with a warning. Have a little gratitude, and show a little respect.”
“Man, he didn’t have nothin’ on me! You heard him. The guy wasn’t going to press charges.” Joey sneered. “Officer
Kramer only brought me in to mess with my head.”
The detective was speechless for a moment. He couldn’t believe Joey’s attitude, but as he thought it over, he realized he should have expected it. Two months ago that kind of attitude was the only thing that came out of Joey’s mouth. It had just been a while since he’d heard it, because the kid had started to trust and respect him. But he obviously didn’t trust or respect police in general, or the laws they were sworn to uphold. With a sigh, he resigned himself to the idea that it was time to let the kid know exactly how he felt about his criminal behavior.
As the silence stretched out between them, Joey started to fidget in his chair.
“Is your uncle home?” Esposito asked.
“No. He got the child support check, so he’s at the casino. Probably won’t be home until tomorrow after he’s blown it all. If he wins, he won’t be back for a few days.”
“Did he buy groceries and pay the bills first?” the detective asked with a scowl.
The kid snorted. “Yeah, he’s not going to make that mistake again. I don’t know what you said to him last time, but he practically pisses himself if I bring up your name.”
you say to him?”
“None of your business.”
A few minutes later, Esposito parked in front of Joey’s apartment building.
“Thanks for the ride,” Joey said as he opened his door.
“We’re not done talking.” The detective got out as well, locked the doors, and walked towards the apartment building.
“Uh… we’re not?” Joey asked.
The detective gestured towards the building, and followed as Joey reluctantly led the way inside and up the stairs to his uncle’s apartment. Once they were inside, the kid shut and locked the door out of habit, and then looked expectantly at the man. Esposito sat on the couch, and pointed to the spot next to him. “Sit down.”
Frowning, Joey went to sit next to him. He truly hated letting the man down, after everything Esposito had done for him, but he couldn’t take back what he’d already done. He knew that the upcoming lecture was only going to make him feel worse, but he supposed he deserved it for getting caught.
“I understand you wanting to impress a girl,” Esposito started off gently, “but you went about that the wrong way. Stealing from people isn’t a skill to be proud of.”
“We were giving - …”
“Joey,” Esposito cut him off. “I know you were giving them back. That’s not the point. The point is that you were doing something illegal, simply to have a good time.”
Joey’s stomach churned with guilt. He hated how calm and sincere Esposito was about it.
“You do realize that you could have gotten Renee arrested as well, right?”
The kid shook his head in denial. “I would never let that happen!”
“If she’d been caught with the wallet, you might not have been able to prevent it.”
Joey shook his head again, but that very scenario played itself out in his mind, and his stomach churned harder.
“Then your attitude about Kramer…” Esposito shook his head. “I know you’ve dealt with a lot of cops over the years, and I know that some of them have been assholes to you, but Kramer is a good guy. He didn’t bring you in to ‘mess with your head’, he brought you in because he caught you doing something illegal. If it had been a different officer, I might not have been able to get you released so quickly.”
The kid scowled, but remained silent. He didn’t necessarily agree with Esposito’s description of Kramer as a good guy, but the officer certainly hadn’t been the worst he’d ever encountered, so he kept his mouth shut about it.
“But I do give you credit for being respectful at the police station. I appreciate that.”
Joey shrugged. Of course he was going to be respectful when he was about to be released. That went without saying.
The detective sighed. It was time to get to the heart of the matter, no matter how much he was dreading it.
“Joey…” He selected his words carefully, “I promised to keep an eye out for you, and I hope by now you’re beginning to see that I keep my promises.”
The kid nodded.
“Part of keeping an eye out for you means being tough on you when you do the wrong thing.”
Joey remained perfectly still, except for his adam’s apple, which bobbed as he swallowed.
“You did the wrong thing today, and I’m not going to let that go unpunished.”
Joey’s eyes opened wide with fear, and he shook his head no slowly. Esposito’s words from two months ago raced to the forefront of his brain. I’d beat your skinny ass if I thought it would do any good.
That kind of threat wasn’t easily forgotten, especially when it came from an authority figure that would never raise a fist to him, because that meant the threat was literal. For someone on the cusp of manhood, the idea of anyone hitting his ass repeatedly in punishment made his entire body burn with humiliation.
“For dragging your friends into helping you commit a crime, and for the disrespectful comments towards Officer Kramer, you’re grounded for the weekend.”
Joey hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath, until it came out in a whoosh. Being grounded was fine. It just meant he couldn’t go hang out with his friends for the next two days in case the detective dropped by to check on him.
“So when we’re done talking, you’re going to pack an overnight bag, and I’ll drop you off at my place before I go back to work. I’ll take you home Sunday after dinner.”
“Your place?” Joey asked.
“It wouldn’t be much of a punishment if I let you stay here alone. You’ve got cable TV, Internet, and your X-box to keep you entertained. You’re going to be spending some quality time doing nothing, except hopefully thinking about what you did wrong, and how you’re not going to do it again.”
“That bites,” the kid muttered.
Esposito nodded in agreement. He certainly had things he’d rather be doing with his weekend, but he refused to be another in the long line of adults that had let this boy down over the years.
“That’s not all. We haven’t gotten to the big one yet. For stealing the wallets, I’m either going to put you over my knee and beat your ass, or I’m going to call all three of your friend’s parents to let them know what their kids did today.”
Joey jumped off the couch, and backed away while shaking his head no.
The detective stayed seated, and tried not to appear angry or intimidating. He knew Joey would bolt if he felt backed into a corner.
“If you run, I’ll decide for you. I’ll go to your school, I’ll talk to your teachers, and I’ll tell them all what you four were doing today. I’ll have spoken with Renee’s parents, Jenny’s parents, and Bryce’s parents within fifteen minutes of showing up.”
“You wouldn’t.” The kid’s voice cracked as he said it.
“Yes, I would. I think that would be the right thing for me to do for those kids. But I promised to watch out for you, not them, and I don’t want you to feel like I betrayed your trust, so I’m giving you another option.”
“Getting my ass beat is not an option!”
Esposito nodded. “Okay then, give me your friend’s phone numbers, and I won’t have to go to the school to get their information.”
“No! You can’t call Renee’s parents! She likes
me, I can’t get her in trouble for helping me!”
“Then come here, and let’s get this over with, because those are your only two options.”
“It’s assault! I’ll report you!”
“If you wanna report me, go ahead.” The detective shrugged. “I may get a note put in my file, or I may get suspended without pay for a few days, but if you think this will end my career, you’re wrong. Corporal punishment is perfectly legal as long as it’s not excessive, and a few open handed slaps applied to the seat of your jeans isn’t going to be interpreted as excessive in any court. The only thing that might make a judge look twice, is the fact that I’m not your father. But seeing as how your parents are gone, and the state is well aware of your uncle’s history of borderline neglect, I’m guessing they’ll overlook it. Especially once I tell them about my involvement with your school, and your new track record for attendance.”
The detective’s description of the punishment gave Joey pause. The man had described the kind of spanking his mother used to give him when he was five, and that wasn’t what he’d envisioned when he’d heard the words ‘beat your ass’. His uncle had taken a belt to him twice when he first moved in, and probably still would if Joey hadn’t threatened to move to a foster home, taking the state child support check along with him.
Joey was quiet for a few moments, weighing his options. He already knew which one he’d pick, but that didn’t make it easy. He kept his eyes on the ground and said, “Just your hand?”
Frowning, Esposito wondered who else had been hitting the kid, and with what. He made a mental note to have another discussion with Joey’s uncle. “Just my hand.”
Joey made eye contact for a second, and said, “You promise?”
“Yeah kid, I promise. Believe it or not, it’s not about hurting you. It’s about showing that I’m disappointed, because I expected better from you. It’s also supposed to deter you from doing it again.”
His stomach lurched with shame when he heard the man say he’d expected better from him. He cursed softly under his breath, and then nodded to the ground. “Okay.”
Esposito pointed to a spot on the floor right next to his lap and said, “Come here.”
Joey grimaced, and walked to the indicated spot. The man grasped the kid’s wrist, and pulled until the kid was forced to either fall or lay himself over the detective’s lap. After an awkward halfway compliant fall, Esposito wrapped a hand around the kid’s waist, and adjusted him so he was fully over his lap. Once Joey’s feet and hands were on the floor on either side of his legs, Esposito raised his hand, and started spanking.
The kid gasped at the first swat, and then held his breath for the next few. The rapid fire pace made it difficult to remain still, or to keep track of how many swats he’d gotten. A tiny, high-pitched whine of despair came out of his throat as he released his breath. There was no way he could take this pace stoically, but he hated the thought of seeming weak in front of the detective.
Keeping up a steady stream of firm smacks, Esposito said sternly, “Stealing is wrong, Joey. Stealing from other people is a crime, not something you do for fun with your friends. Do you hear me?”
Joey’s chest felt suddenly tight. The guilt, the rapid swats, and the disappointed tone were too much to bear all at once. He knew that his mother would be just as disappointed with him if she were alive, and he couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his face. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Every time you pick someone’s pocket, you’re putting yourself in danger.” Esposito started centering all the swats on the crease where butt met thigh. “Anyone you steal from could be violent if they caught you, and that’s not a risk you should be taking, so you’re never going to do it again. Are you?”
Joey completely lost it with those words from the man who’d become his mentor. Later, when he looked back at this moment, he’d be utterly ashamed of himself for breaking down after a spanking that he wouldn’t even be able to feel the next morning, but in the moment he couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry!” he cried. “I won’t! I won’t do it again! I swear! Ow! Javier, I swear I won’t! Please stop!”
Esposito landed two swats that were harder than the rest before he stopped. He patted the kid’s back a few times, and said, “Okay, it’s done, but if you ever steal again, you’ll be right back over my knee if you’re not in jail.”
The kid nodded, wiped at his face with his sleeve, and tried to stop crying.
“Come on,” the detective said, pulling on one of Joey’s arms, “let’s get you upright.”
Joey moved where the hands guided him, and he found himself sitting right next to Esposito on the couch, with the man’s arm draped around his shoulders in a one armed hug.
“I’m sorry,” Joey muttered, while using both hands to wipe at his face.
“I know,” Esposito said gently. “And after you’ve served your time this weekend, the slate will be wiped clean, and we can start fresh. Okay?”
Joey nodded, and felt the older man pat his shoulder a few times. The two sat together quietly for a few minutes while Joey calmed down.
When Esposito felt the kid start to fidget, he said, “Why don’t you go pack a bag for the weekend. Bring any homework you have.”
“Okay.” The kid stood, and went to his room to pack. Once he was in his room, Joey rubbed his ass with both hands, trying to get rid of the unpleasant sting. He shoved some clean clothes in his backpack, and wondered why he wasn’t pissed about what had just happened. He certainly wanted to avoid it ever happening again, but he wasn’t angry that it had happened this time. He just wasn’t sure why. He’d been completely pissed both times his uncle had whipped him, and he’d taken off for a few days to lick his wounds on the streets. But he didn’t feel the need to run away right now. In fact he felt pretty desperate to get back in Esposito’s good graces, and that was confusing.
Esposito rubbed at his hand while he waited, and hoped to God that he’d never have to go down this road with Joey again. The kid was smart enough to avoid it if he tried, and he couldn’t think of any reason why Joey wouldn’t
try to avoid it. Things seemed to be going fairly well in the kid’s life, all things considered, so he should want to maintain the status quo.
When Joey came out of his room, Esposito stood up, and said, “Leave a note for your uncle in case he comes home while you’re at my house.”
Joey nodded, and quickly left a note on the kitchen table.
As they left Joey’s apartment, Esposito tossed an arm over the kid’s shoulders and said, “The circumstances may suck, but I think it’s gonna be kind of nice to have you around this weekend. Maybe if you don’t hate the idea, we could try it again on a weekend when you aren’t grounded.”
Joey found himself smiling in spite of his sore butt. He shrugged and said, “I could do that.”
Esposito smiled as they left the apartment building together. Watching out for the kid had turned out to be a little more time consuming than he’d originally planned, but it was worth it.
(Feedback makes me happy.)