Goth kids and skaters surrounded a girl with spiked purple hair and face piercings. She wore long, black-denim shorts with chains, a sleeveless Dissonant Paragon t-shirt, and held a skateboard under her arm. Green and red skulls decorated the scuffed daredevil board.
“Good evening, ladies, gentlemen,” Rohan said.
Several kids looked up. A few retreated under the bridge. Rohan eyed their furtive movements and spoke without raising his voice. “Don't go anywhere. I'll chase you. No one's in trouble. We just want to know what's going on.”
A boy known as Topeka Tim emerged from the group. His real name was David Timothy Mann and he had never been outside Promisedale as far as Rohan knew, but his friends called him Topeka Tim because he was Native American. He looked at his friends as he approached Rohan. “It's Alice. He's cool. We should tell him.”
The scraped-skinned, purple-haired girl twisted toward Tim and mashed her face, clenching her jaw aggressively. “Don't say nothing.”
Rohan moved a half step closer. “What's your name?”
“Come here. Let’s talk in private.”
She stood, cocking her head with attitude and throwing up one hand in frustration, the skateboard she held under her other arm nearly striking the boy next to her as she whirled.
Rohan led her a few paces along the river-walk while Monica talked to the others.
“What's your name?”
“They call me Rat,” she said.
“Why don't you tell me your name or I take you home and have your mother tell me?”
Hate formed a link from her eyes to his. He expected juvenile resentment and received it neutrally. The wrong word would make it worse. He wasn’t sure there was a right word, so he waited.
“My name's Samantha Johnson, but my friends call me Rat,” she said with emphasis on the last statement.
“Can I call you Rat?”
“You can do whatever you want. You're a cop.”
“Listen, I'm not trying to pretend we're friends. I'm just showing you a little respect. You cool with that?”
“What's going on?”
“T,” she said.
“T? Can I buy a vowel?”
She smiled and tried to hide it, then let out a laugh. “Nah, we call the dude T because he never talks and he always wears this hat with an orange letter T on it.”
“What's he look like? White, black, Hispanic?”
“Don't know. He wears a hoodie,” she said.
“A hoodie and a hat?”
“That's what I said.”
“Okay. What about him?”
Rat shrugged. “We stay away from him. He's scary. I saw him over behind the Society and got freaked out. I ran under the bridge and everyone started treating me like a little girl.”
“Are you hurt?”
“I kind of fell.” She held up her left palm to show the scrapes. Road rash painted her elbows strawberry red. “I didn't have my asthma inhaler. They were gonna call an ambulance, but I'm okay now.”
“I should take you home,” he said.
She backed away, a betrayed expression on her face.
“Or to the hospital. I won't, but you owe me,” he said, pointing a finger and lowering his gaze. “I could get in trouble for letting you bounce.”
She relaxed, but stayed back. “You touch me, I'll scream.”
“Wouldn't be the first time someone screamed when I grabbed hold. And in case you're wondering, I'm way faster than you are.”
“Whatever,” she said.
“Tell me about T.”
“Nobody knows him. Nobody goes near him. Go find him. You'll see what I’m talking about,” she said.
“I will. You think he’s over by the hotel?”
“He's bigger than you,” she said.
“Yeah, but I'm meaner.”
“He ain’t mean; he's evil. Dawn of the Dead shit.”
“The Promisedale Police Department issues silver bullets in the academy.” He expected her to laugh, but disgust rolled her eyes sideways.
She sauntered toward her friends, sparing Rohan one over-the-shoulder glance.
He followed and spoke to the group. “Someone needs to get her inhaler or take her home. Can we do that?”
Tim stepped forward. “Yeah, Alice. Her mom digs me. I'll get it.”
Rat slugged him in the shoulder.
“Come talk to me, Tim,” Rohan said as he walked along the river without waiting.
Rohan had arrested him for smoking marijuana, but they were cool. Tim expected to be harassed by cops and Rohan treated him like an adult who didn't need a lecture.
“Tell me about this guy,” Rohan said.
“You mean T? He's bad news, man. Heard he killed someone in Texas with a chainsaw and now he's hiding out.”
“Don't you think the police might want to know about that? About Leatherface?”
Tim furrowed his brow and studied Rohan. “No. It's just a rumor. Besides, that's your job. I'm just a kid.”
“Just a kid,” Rohan said. “More like a pain in my ass. I don't want to keep getting called down here. And if this guy is lurking around, you ought to go to a lighted skate park.” Before Tim could respond, Rohan continued. “What's he look like?”
“He's big. Always wears a hoodie and this ratty old cap. Never talks, but no one wants to talk to him. He's scary.”
“That's what Rat said.”
Tim laughed. “She said he's scary? Rat never admits she's afraid of anything. All she does is watch horror movies, listen to Face Eaters, and skate.” He yelled back to his friends. “Rat's scared.”
“Are you afraid of the guy?”
Tim didn't answer.
“What's his name?”
“We call him T. Hey, can I go now? I don't want everyone thinking we're friends. No offense.”
Rohan studied Tim. He was a good-looking kid for all his shaggy cut-off shorts and self-made tattoos. An average citizen might assume he was a street punk or a gang member, but Rohan thought he was the big brother of this bunch.
“Get out of here. Next time you see this guy, call 9-1-1. I want to talk to him.”
“I don't have a phone,” Tim said as he backed away. “Hey, who called? We weren’t bothering no one.”
Rohan stared into Tim’s eyes, not wanting to get into a discussion about anonymous callers and citizen bias against juveniles. “Get one.”
Monica gave Rohan the nod. She was done with interviews, so they went back to the car and advised the dispatcher they were finished. The full darkness of night washed over the scene.
He studied the stars in the sky, gathering peace, pushing away a sense of unease. “Let's walk it out.”
“Did they tell you about this guy they call T?”
“Yeah. I want to talk to him, see what he's up to.”
They crossed the street and walked toward the Society Hotel. Trees bordered the parking lot and a grass field sloped toward the river. Homeless men often slept in the quiet area and drank Listerine or cheap vodka. Rohan knew most of them by name.
After twice around the Society and the expo hall, Rohan and Monica headed to the car.
“We'll run into him sooner or later,” she said. “There are calls holding. We better get back on the street.”
Monica seemed troubled by what the kids told her, but she didn’t elaborate. Rohan was disturbed, but not by the fears of Tim or Samantha “Rat” Johnson. Under the bridge, he had felt someone watching him. His skin itched and sweat trickled down his back. The night was hot and he wore long sleeves, as usual, but this was a different kind of sweat.