Detective Bruno smiled as he started down the path to the river walk. Perhaps he smiled because it was such a beautiful day. Maybe he smiled because being there reminded him of his rookie year on the force, and the training runs he’d do every morning before his shift.
The truth was, however, that he was in a good mood because of Wally’s reaction to being told he had to stay behind at the station to do some grunt work.
When the rookie had mouthed off about it, Bruno quickly shut him down by reminding him that the whole reason he had rescued him from street patrol for this case was so that he could do all the crap tasks that didn’t interest a seasoned detective.
That had shut him up long enough for Bruno to make his getaway.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like the kid. He’d kinda grown on Bruno, who’d discovered that he enjoyed having some company on the job. Of course, he was not ready to go back to having a permanent partner, but he wouldn’t mind working with Wally again.
He was the only one on the path this morning, and his smile was quickly replaced by a frown at the sight of all the trash, weeds, and graffiti along the once meticulously maintained path. It really was a shame that the city had let this place go to shit.
When he came out of the tunnel that left him at the foot of the hill where the chess boards were, Bruno realized that someone had taken the time to tend to this part of the path.
That tiny bit of knowledge gave him hope, which he quickly pushed out of his mind because he knew he had to stay focused and somewhat negative in order to do his job properly.
No one was playing chess when Bruno reached the top of the hill, but he was surprised to find a couple seated on the bench that overlooked the river. He slowly made his way over to them so as not to interrupt was appeared to be a lively conversation. It also gave him the opportunity to size up the duo.
Early thirties, attractive, the man wore stylish glasses and a Yankees cap, which made Bruno feel nostalgic for day’s long past. He also clutched a bottle of Snapple iced tea like it was the most valuable thing he owned.
The woman was way too good looking for Mr. Yankee, but she looked at him adoringly as she sipped her coffee and hung on his every word.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Bruno interrupted. “I’m Detective Bruno.”
He flashed his badge and his friendliest smile.
“I’m Aaron, and this is Holly,” the man made the introductions. “Is there something wrong?”
“Ain’t a thing wrong,” Bruno assured him. “Just wondering if you saw anyone playing chess earlier. Specifically an older homeless man with long white hair and a jacked up nose.”
Holly smiled. “You’re looking for Champ. Is he in trouble?”
Bruno wondered what it was with these two that had them assuming something was wrong just because a cop asked a few questions.
“Not that I know of,” he tried to put them at ease. “I gotta ask him a few questions about a friend of his. So you seen him?”
They shook their heads simultaneously. It might have been adorable, but Bruno really wasn’t in the mood for cute couple nonsense at the moment.
Not when he was so close to getting answers.
“He’s usually across the river in the morning,” Aaron explained. “He told us he likes to hit up the suits on their way to work because they’re less likely to have been beaten down by the world yet, and they have loose change on them from buying coffee and croissants.”
The woman giggled. “Champ comes by in the afternoon when folks from the local businesses take their lunch. He can usually find someone to play chess with then.”
Bruno nodded in understanding and glanced over at the boards.
“Either of you play?” he asked.
“That requires too much socializing for my introverted tastes,” Aaron quipped.
Holly punched him playfully in the arm. “Neither of us are any good, so we wouldn’t offer much of a challenge to Champ. He’s a real whiz.”
Bruno walked a little closer to the couple, called up the photo of Charlie White on his phone, and held it out to them.
“Recognize him?” Bruno asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Sure,” Holly replied. “I don’t know his name, but I’ve seen him playing chess with Champ.”
“I think he was a mechanic,” Aaron added. “He always wore a shirt with the patch of some garage over his heart. He’d come here on his lunch break and Champ was really patient about teaching him chess. Is he the one you’re really looking for?”
Bruno wondered how a guy who had such a good gut instinct about the man in the photo could also be totally oblivious to the fact that the beautiful woman sitting next to him was in love with him. Some people…
“You have a nice day,” Bruno said without answering Aaron’s question.
He had come alone today because if his theory was wrong, he didn’t want to look bad in front of Wally. Now that he was sure he was on the right path, he’d let the kid accompany him when he returned that afternoon.
Granted, of course, that the rookie had come through on his end.
“I ain’t no prodigal son,” Bruno corrected as he shooed Wally out of his chair. “More like the return of the king!”
Wally grabbed a chair and rolled it over so he could sit next to Bruno’s desk.
“You ain’t gonna make me ask, are you?” Bruno demanded.
Wally shook his head. “It took about a thousand calls, but I finally tracked down a doctor who admitted to treating Charlie White. He wouldn’t talk to me at first, so I had Michelle explain to him that patient confidentiality doesn’t mean much when the patient is deceased.”
Bruno rolled his eyes in exasperation and motioned for Wally to speed it the hell up.
“He confirmed that about seven months ago, Charlie was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer, and given a year to live.”
Bruno nodded solemnly. Even though he already knew the outcome of that diagnosis, it still upset him to hear the news.
“The doc said at first, Charlie had planned to fight it, go for chemo, and the whole works, but he didn’t have any insurance,” Wally explained. “That was all dependent on his getting his boss to spring for coverage…”
“The sad truth being they woulda denied him anyways, citing the cancer as a pre-existing condition,” Bruno grumbled like the words burned his throat on the way out. “Insurance companies oughta burn in hell.”
Wally nodded his agreement.
“Charlie soon after changed his mind about the treatment, and could not be convinced otherwise,” he revealed with a hint of sadness. “When the doc asked him what he was going to do, Charlie told him he was going to use his last few months to live life, right some wrongs, and maybe take a cross country bike ride.”
Bruno raised an eyebrow to that revelation. “So maybe my theory about stealing Zeus’ bike wasn’t right after all.”
“Even kings are wrong once in a while,” Wally snickered. “So what did you find out on your mysterious solo adventure?”
Bruno cracked a slight smile. “Let’s go play some chess…”
Bruno got up from his desk with any further explanation, and headed for the door.
Wally followed him without question because he was thrilled to be off grunt duty and back on assignment with the big guy…
TO BE CONTINUED…