A First Bust
Ian soaked up the lightly filtered LA sun as he sat on the park bench. A light breeze was blowing and the sound of children pushing each other into the sand filtered through the air. The woman who had been sitting on the bench next to him for several minutes pushing a stroller back and forth leaned over.
“Which one’s yours?” She asked.
The woman smiled. “Which one is yours?”
‘A perfectly normal thing to ask between parents.’ the very, very small, non paranoid part of his mind pointed out.
“Curly hair, on the slide.”
Esther slid down the slide landing in the small mud puddle, some other kid with a water bottle had built at the bottom.
Ian smiled. “Not actually mine, just giving her dads a couple hours off.”
Esther climbed up the slide again and paused at the top. She seemed to be looking around for a moment before sliding back down with gusto.
“She likes that slide.” The mother stated.
“Yes.” said Ian with some curiosity. He watched as Esther repeated the process two more times. Climb the slide, appear to look all around, then slide back down before anyone commented on the amount of time she was spending.
Esther ran over and climbed up on the bench next to Ian. She had a smile on her face and seemed to be catching her breath. “Uncle Ian,” She said softly, the smile seeming a little forced. “There’s a man in the bushes to the right with a camera and a big lens. I can see him from the top of the slide.” Esther didn’t point but in fact looked the opposite direction from the bushes.
Ian scanned the bushes from behind dark shades. He could just make out the slightest glint that was probably the lens. Ian knew there were three possibilities. Perv, paparazzi if the kid of someone famous was around, or someone doing surveillance on Esther. None of these sat well with Ian.
Ian casually pulled out his phone and made as if he were answering it while thumbing a number.
“This is Agent Edgerton, FBI. I need plain clothes back up at the park on Sonora and Altamont. Got a long lens in the bushes taking pictures of kids... Don’t send a black and white, I don’t want to spook him.” Ian hung up with a smile as if he’d been having a pleasant conversation with someone.
The mother with the stroller had her mouth open and looked ready to say something.
“I’d walk away perfectly normal if I were you.” The mother nodded and got up. “Esther, sweetie, are you ready for your first bust?”
Esther’s smile grew. “Yep.”
“Good. If I push you high enough on the swing do you think you’ll be able to see over the bushes?”
“Ok. On my mark you’ll drag me over to the swings demanding to be pushed. I’ll send you up and if you can still see the guy say ‘that’s high enough.’ I’ll push you one more time then make like I’m answering the phone and double around behind the bushes. Do you think you can recognize plain clothes when they show up?”
“Good, go to them like they’re your daddies. Make sure they’re cops, check their credentials, tell them where I am and brief them. Got that all?”
“Yes, Uncle Ian.” Esther said seriously.
Esther jumped up and grabbed his hand, dragging them to the swings. “Push me really high.” She demanded jumping on the swing. Ian gave her a couple of hard pushes sending the swing almost parallel to the ground. “That’s high enough.” Esther said. Ian gave one more push then flipped open his phone.
“Hello,” he said into it, and wandered off faking half a business conversation.
Once he was sure he was out of the line of sight he headed into the bit of scrub that the park backed onto. Ian tracked carefully and quietly, through the tangles of poison oak, nettles, and blackberry bushes. A trick of genetics had left him basically immune to poison oak, but stinging nettles, while tasty in a pinch, were never fun to deal with.
It only took a couple of minutes to find the guy with the camera. The tent the guy was pitching in his sweatpants ruled out paparazzi or surveillance. He didn’t even notice when Ian came up, not so quietly, behind him.
“Hey.” Ian said holding up his FBI ID.
The guy spun around, Ian grabbed him by the hair and kneed him in the stomach. The guy went face first into a patch of poison oak and dropped his camera. Ian put a booted foot none to lightly on the back of the guys neck and picked up the camera.
“Let’s see, what have we got here.” Ian started flicking through the digital images on the camera, “little girl, little girl, little girl, very girly looking little boy, little girl.” Ian stopped on a particular picture. He bent over and pressed the small screen to the man’s face putting a good deal of extra pressure on his neck in the process.
“See this one, if I ever find you within two hundred miles of her slow castration will seem like a pleasant alternative compared to what I will do to you. Understand?” The man nodded frantically.
There was the sound of tramping through the bushes and two men pushed through with Esther trailing a few feet behind. Ian held up his ID again.
“LAPD.” The older of the two men said. “You the one that called this in?”
“Yep. Can I get some cuffs.” The younger cop traded cuffs for the camera.
“Well, well, well.” The younger cop said looking at the pictures. “Let me guess, you’re an art student doing a series on the innocence of childhood?”
“This man attacked me...” The guy on the ground started.
“Shut up.” Said the older cop. “You have the right to remain silent and I seriously suggest you use it.”
Esther carefully crept up to the perp who was still face first in poison oak. Ian wanted to make sure it got in good. Esther looked at him then without warning delivered a savage kick to his ribs. “Bad Man!” She shouted as the perp cried out and tried to roll over, despite Ian’s foot on his back.
“No, no, sweetie. Once they’re cuffed you’re not allowed to kick them.”
Esther lowered her head. “Oh.” Ian heard the genius wheels quickly turn. “If you take off the cuffs can I kick him again?”
The two plain clothes cops cracked up. Ian grimaced. “While I can’t fault the basic logic...no.”
“You guys want to take him?” Ian asked the cops.
“Feds don’t want this?” The older cop asked.
Ian shook his head. “I’m just babysitting for a fellow agent.”
“Wish I could get my partner to do that.”
The younger of the two cops snorted. “Last time you left me with your kids your house almost burnt down.”
“Yeah, but now they’re old enough to keep an eye on you.”
Ian hulled the guy to his feet and handed him over to the younger cop then gave his card to the older one. “I’ve got get the kid home then head out of town.”
“On a hunt!” Esther said brightly.
“Call later, I’ll give a full statement.”
“Thanks, the camera alone should get us into his place and computer. I’m sure we’ll find plenty to bust him with.”
“Well call me if it doesn’t stick.”
“Sure thing.” The two cops lead the perv out of the bushes while reading him his rights.
Ian looked at Esther. “Not bad for a first bust.” Esther smiled. “Want to get ice cream?”
“I’m not supposed to have ice cream. It makes me hyper.”
“Well we’ve got to celebrate, we got the bad guy and I think I’ll get in more trouble if I buy you a beer.”
Esther giggled. “Chocolate ice cream?”
“Is there any other kind?”
Ian knocked on the door before opening it, letting himself and Esther into the house. Esther sprinted past him to the living room where Colby and the Eppes men were all looking relaxed thanks to a child free afternoon.
Esther bounced up and down in the middle of the room. “daddydaddydaddydaddydaddy.”
Colby looked at Esther, and looked at Ian. “Did you have a nice afternoon?”
“Did Ian buy you ice cream?” Considering the large quantity of chocolate smeared across Esther’s face it was more and accusation than a question.
Esther nodded her head. “Yep. We had to celebrate.”
“Really. And what were you celebrating?” Charlie asked, casting a more than slightly accusing eye at Ian for delivering them a hyper child.
“My first bust!” Esther exclaimed bouncing up and down. Don and Alan suddenly sat up.
“Excuse me?” Said Alan.
“Yep! There was a bad man in the park taking pictures and I saw him and I told Uncle Ian and Uncle Ian call the LAPD then went into the bushes and caught the bad guy and the police showed up and I told them where Uncle Ian was and I kicked the bad man but I wasn’t supposed to ‘cause he was already cuffed then we got ice cream!” Esther ran out of breath and Ian accepted to looks of pure death from the four grown men in the room. The one coming from Alan was particularly scary.
“Esther, sweetie.” Ian said. “You’re covered in mud and chocolate. Why don’t you go wash your face and change your clothes while I talk with your daddies.”
“Ok!” Esther sprinted up stairs the way only a sugar fueled six-year-old can.
Everyone waited until she was out of earshot. “Ok, yell.” All four men where quickly on their feet. Don was closest.
“What the fuck Ian. A bust!?”
“She did exactly what she’s been told to do. She saw something she knew wasn’t right, she told an adult and made sure it was dealt with.”
“And in the mean time she’s getting exciting ideas about being a fed!” Colby hissed.
“It’s not my fault if she’s got instinct for it. No other kid or parent in that park spotted the guy, including me.”
Don grabbed Ian by the shirt. “She is not becoming one more fed, Ian. She’s...better than that. Better than us.”
“Don, do you really believe you or anyone else is going to get a say in what she wants to do with her life?”
“Well we can avoid putting ideas in her head in the mean time.” Don growled out letting go of Ian’s shirt.
“And you had to give her ice cream?” Charlie said, as if it were the greater crime.
“Well I couldn’t get her into Gonzalez for a beer.”
Esther ran down the stairs in shorts and one of Colby’s old FBI t-shirts; belted around the middle it qualified more as a dress. Most of the chocolate was washed off her face as well.
“Uncle Ian, are you staying for dinner?” Esther asked.
Ian knew at that point, even if he didn’t need to hit the road, he would not be the most welcomed dinner guest. “No sweetie, I’ve got to get going.”
“On a hunt!”
“Yep on another hunt.”
“Not sure yet. What state don’t you have a post card from?”
Esther scrunched up her face and thought for a moment. “Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Idaho, Delaware and Maine.”
“Well I’m not sure if I can manage Alaska but I’ll see about Idaho.” Esther smiled. “Go run and play.” Esther ran out of the room again headed to the back yard.
Ian gave a nod to the Eppes men and let Alan lead him to the front door. Ian stood on the front porch for a moment looking at the quiet neighborhood in the dying evening light.
“You spoil her, Ian.” Alan said quietly standing next to him.
“I don’t have anyone else to spoil.”
“I thought you came from a large family?”
Ian shrugged. “Half my siblings are idiots and don’t want me around until I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” Alan gave an amused snort. “And the half that aren’t idiots just don’t want me around.”
“Still time for one of your own.”
Ian reached out and ran his hand over the porch railing. “Alan, I’m not like Don and Granger, I don’t build cases and collect evidence. I hunt down people already deemed guilty and irredeemable by society and most of the time I kill them. I’m the hang man of the new millennium and I’m very good at it. If I’m lucky this gets me a pity fuck, it does not get me a couple of healthy boys in a craftsmen home in Pasadena.”
“Never make assumptions about what the world has planned for you, Ian.”
Ian shrugged and looked at the sun. “I’ve got to hit the road. See you latter Alan.” Ian got into his truck and drove off casting a look in the rear view mirror at the big craftsmen home looking so warm in the setting sun.