Coty wheeled the low-riding, cherry-red mustang into the only unoccupied parking space at the front entrance of the dilapidated apartment complex.
He glanced into the rear-view mirror and smiled at his moody backseat passenger. “Stop whining.”
The immediate answer was a snort and a loud sniff. It was tempting to laugh, but he decided it was probably better not to. Instead, he hummed the children’s song Barker liked so much. Coty was pleased when the happy tune had the desired effect and the backseat passenger stopped whining and stopped to listen.
Coty continued humming while he took a moment to scan the parking area before heading inside to question one of the older residents, one Mrs. Connelly, about some suspicious activity she had witnessed the night before.
Seeing nothing of interest, he slipped the ring of car keys into a front pocket of his jeans and spoke over his shoulder. “It must be too hot for the usual late afternoon socializing.”
It was disheartening to see the condition of the apartment complex. Only the poorest of the poor lived here. Most of the residents struggled to survive on their welfare checks or the small amount of money they earned from working whatever low paying job they could find. It didn’t help that the area was also infested with hooligans and gang members. Not many lived here by choice. The rent was low, so even though crime was a daily fact of life, the residents stayed.
Coty went to open the car door but stopped when a movement drew his attention toward the apartment’s dumpsters.
“I see there’s at least one poor soul’s brave enough to be out here in this smothering heat.”
The teen was a little over five feet tall, a pimpled-faced youth with a mass of unruly curls. The reddish blonde hair didn’t look as if it had seen the right end of a comb in days. For some reason, even though it was well over ninety degrees in the shade, he wore a large, oversized black hoodie. Its pockets were stuffed to the point of hanging below the boy’s knees.
“What’s he carrying that’s so important he’s willing to risk heat stroke?” Coty had been a policeman long enough to sense when something wasn’t right. Maybe he should go over there and see what the kid was up to before heading up to talk to Mrs. Connelly.
The boy glanced over at Coty’s unmarked police car before taking several short, running steps and kicking a large chunk of loose pavement toward the dumpsters. He waited until the gravel hit one of the rusted out containers before throwing another glance at Coty’s car.
“He’s the perfect age to be used by the local gangs; the sort they like to recruit. These young kids are usually easily impressed, intimated and controlled.”
The fine hairs on the back of his neck rose when the boy snuck another glance his way. “That settles it. I’m going over there to see what he’s up to.”
Before he could, a loud bark from the back seat made Coty turn and pat his golden retriever’s head. “All I have to do is run in and ask Mrs. Connelly three questions. I won’t be long.”
He stroked the soft hairs under the dog’s chin. “When I get back, we’ll head to the park and play catch.” Barker licked at Coty’s face until he had to hold the dog’s head between his hands and push him back to keep from getting covered in drool.
A second later, the retriever whined and slipped her head out from between the headrests and pressed her nose against the side window, staring at the young man by the dumpsters, then she returned to licking Coty’s face.
Coty patted her head. “What are you so worried about? Let me take care all of the world’s problems, will you?”
He fought off the next attack of dog kisses. “I appreciate all of this love, but now I smell like dog spit. Why don’t I leave the windows down so you won’t get too hot? You’ll have to promise to stay out of trouble, though. No taking candy from strangers again, uh? You know what happened last time. We spent the entire night at the vet’s.”
Barker tensed and let out a low growl. It was enough to make Coty turn to his side window, but the only thing he saw was a snubbed-nosed handgun pressed against the glass. Coty immediately fell sideways into the passenger seat, his service revolver already out of its holster, free and aimed before he heard its discharge.
The power of a semi-truck slammed into Coty’s shoulder, and the last thing he saw was the teenager’s head exploding.