“Come to my office,” I said, after processing what I had heard.
I directed them over to a back booth near the entrance to the kitchen area. Jordan sat first, Dennis sitting beside her.
“Looks like an upgrade from your old office.” Dennis grinned.
My old office had been in my living space. A desk and two chairs, with occasional meetings held at my kitchen table a few feet away. I often bragged that the cost savings on my furniture purchases was reflected in my hourly rate.
“At least the seats are padded. And the choice of drinks and food are better.” My refrigerator was often bare at home. “Can I get you anything?”
Dennis asked for a bottle of light beer, Jordan sticking with a ginger ale. I went over to the bar, returned, and set the drinks in front of them before taking a seat. I brought over a paper pad and pen, wanting to make notes. I was out of practice remembering key details when it came to investigative work. My gray matter reserved for recalling drink and food orders.
“I’ll start with the missing brother. What is his name?”
“Terence,” replied Jordan.
The name sounded familiar, and I looked at Dennis.
“Yes, the same Terence who took my Ernie Banks card.”
The story of Terence stealing the baseball card to help out his family who were in dire straits when it came to money. Dennis forgiving his friend for selling the card, never once asking for restitution. A selfless act I often remembered when my days grew dark and grim.
“I seem to recall Terence mentioning that day you were there to see if his sister was home.” I pointed at Jordan.
Dennis made a face, embarrassed I’d mentioned that conversation. “I was hoping you had forgotten what he said.”
Jordan turned to Dennis. “You used to come around to see if I was home?”
If it weren’t for his dark skin, I think Dennis might have blushed.
“She didn’t know?” I asked.
Dennis lowered his head and sighed.
“You never told me.” Jordan placed her hand on his arm.
“It would appear you two didn’t connect until later on,” I said, hoping to get all the juicy bits.
“Do we have to talk about this now?” Dennis’ tone was edgy.
I could see he wanted to move past this. “Sure. Tell me the last time Terence was seen.”
“The same day Alfonzo was killed.” Jordan’s eyes glistened with unshed tears.
“You mean murdered.” Dennis’ tone was sharp.
“Why do you think he was murdered?” I asked. The young man seemed to be certain.
Dennis reached into his pocket and pulled out his oversized phone. “I got a voicemail from Alfonzo that day. He was concerned about Terence and what he was into.” He placed his phone on the table and played the message.
“Fuck Dennis, why didn’t you pick up?” The tone quivered with panic. “I need you man. I believe Terence is involved with some serious shit. I’m not sure how to get him out of it.” He paused, sounding winded. “He needed money and damned if he didn’t hook up with some creep who was into some bad shit. I’ve been trying my best to get him out—talk sense into him—but he won’t listen. I know I don’t have a right as we haven’t talked in ages, but please call me back right away. I’m afraid for his life, and maybe mine is in danger. Please call me back brother.”
I made a few notes. “Sounds bad. Why do you think it’s related to the hit and run?”
“If you look at the time and date stamp, he was killed a little more than an hour later.”
I wrote down the time and date, as I needed to verify. “Any ideas of what Terence was into?”
Dennis closed his eyes and sighed. “Not certain. Like Alfonzo said, he, Terence, and I hadn’t talked much these last few years. I forgave Terence about the baseball card, but over time we drifted apart.” Dennis opened his damp eyes. “Both of them got really mad at me after I went to CU on the scholarship. Each thought I was too much of a bigshot now to hang out with the old street friends. Reiterated the fact to me several times over the phone, the last being after I was drafted by Arizona.” Dennis reached for his phone. “I stopped answering their calls. If only I’d picked up that day. I didn’t even listen to the message until after I heard about Alfonzo.”
I could see the pain on Dennis’ face. Jordan put her arm around his shoulders to comfort him. The torture of what he felt was evident. Since he was living in Arizona, I doubted he could have done anything to prevent what had happened.
“Did you share this with the police?”
“No. I was hoping you’d help me connect with them. We just got into town yesterday for the funeral.”
I still had connections to the Denver Police Department, especially Bill Monroe who worked behind the desk at the nearby precinct.
“Then it sounds like Alfonzo and Terence remained close?”
“Close in some ways,” noted Jordan. “Terence continued getting into trouble. All he cared about was making a fast, easy buck. Especially when his sports dreams didn’t pan out.”
I recalled Terence being a promising two-sport athlete, in both football and basketball. “What happened?”
“Injuries, including a serious patella and MCL knee injury.” Jordan gripped Dennis’ hand. “Kept him sidelined for over a year. Worked hard to try and come back but was never the same and could no longer keep up with the competition. He had a hard time accepting he wasn’t good enough. That his body had failed him.”
“On the other hand, Alfonzo was smart,” added Dennis. “He was the best student of all of us. Had chances to go to many colleges. But decided to take a year after high school and then never went to college. He tried to remain close to Terence. Keep him in line when he started to stray. Might be why he didn’t want to leave him behind.” Dennis shook his head in anger. “If I was there with him, and hadn’t run off to Boulder and then Arizona, we both could have directed him on the right track.”
I tapped my pen on the paper. “My recollection of Terence told me he was smart as well. Claimed he’d learned his lesson with the baseball card. Why would he hook up with bad people that would lead to trouble?”
Jordan looked at Dennis. “After the baseball card incident things got better for my parents. They were both hard workers, not afraid to toil to exhaustion. Then all this COVID crap really put a crimp on their finances. Mom cleans people’s homes and couldn’t do that for over a year, as nobody wanted outsiders on the premises for fear of getting sick.” Jordan wiped the tears from her eyes. “Dad got COVID and couldn’t work for several months. He’s back working now, but still feeling the effects, breathing being an issue because of the manual labor required of his job. Has oxygen to help with his shortness of breath. I’m sure Terence was just trying to help like he always did. Finding shortcuts, making easy money always tempted him.”
“And before you ask, we didn’t know anything about this.” Dennis frowned. “We were living together in Arizona, trying not to get sick ourselves. Her parents never let on they were having issues until they told us Terence was missing.”
I continued to make a few notes, figuring I’d need to see the police report on the hit and run. It could have been an accident as the police suspected. Still, with the message Alfonzo sent and the fact Terence was missing, made the whole ordeal sound suspicious.
“I can dig into it a little bit and see what I can find.” I smiled. “I’ll even work for the usual rate.”
“I believe you deserve a little more payment than a baseball card,” replied Dennis, referring to the Willie Mays card I still had. “Don’t forget, I make excellent money running with the pigskin.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. “Here is a down payment.”
I stared at the stack of money, the total after counting it, being one-thousand dollars. The currency tempting with my current financial situation.
“I only have one condition,” remarked Dennis while sliding the money to me. “Like with the Ernie Banks baseball card, I want to ride along with you. I need to be involved and help. I can’t sit idly by like I have been.”
“I don’t know,” I said with a tone of concern. “Not sure it’s a good idea, especially if the case gets a little screwy.” I was speaking from a past painful experience.
“Please Jarvis. I need to do this for my own sanity.”
I thought it over for a minute, glancing down at the bills, knowing I could use the cash. Dennis’ simple plea of “Please” working on me as it did on the stolen baseball card.
“My first stop will be at police headquarters, so you can certainly ride along with me and give them the recording. But you need to listen to me, and if things go sideways, I have the right to pull the plug on you helping me.” I put out my hand. “Deal?”
Dennis smiled and then put out his hand, gripping mine firmly. “Whatever you say—Jarvis Mann, Private Eye.”
Though I wasn’t certain I’d enjoy getting back into the game, I didn’t mind hearing my full name matched with the moniker I had used for many years.