It all happens very quickly.
Several officers wearing gas masks storm the building first, throwing smoke bombs as they go. More follow moments later, raising their guns. It takes everything James has to stay in his seat. He grips the door handle to steady himself as Detective Oliver and Detective Roberts enter the building.
“Easy,” Michael says to him. “Easy.”
For a few minutes, everything is silent. Those minutes seem to last forever.
Then, finally, finally, Detective Oliver and Detective Roberts return.
James is out of the car before anyone can stop him. Detective Oliver is shaking her head. The police are still in the building.
James’ heart pounds as he runs towards them, ignoring the shouts from Officer Black to stop.
“Where is he??” he demands breathlessly. “Where is he?!”
Detective Oliver holds up her hands to stop him. “James wait, you can’t go in there, you don’t want to see –”
James tears past her, running blindly towards the building. Hands reach out to stop him but he shoves them out of his way, pushing his way through the police, through the cars, through everything that is keeping him from Alexander. The smoke from the bombs is still clearing when he arrives at the entrance. A group of police officers are huddled inside, examining something. He blinks against the smoke, trying to see. It’s a pile of blankets.
It’s a blanket wrapped around something.
James’ knees buckle under him but he forces himself forward, forcing his legs to be strong enough to carry him, strong enough to keep him standing when all he wants to do is crumble to the ground. Strong enough for Alexander.
He has to get to him. He has to.
“What kind of fucking whack job does this?” one of the police officers says, taking off his hat. “I hope they give the fucker the chair. I really do.”
“Alexander,” James whispers. The officers all turn to look at him. His legs give way and he falls to the ground, but he keeps going. He stumbles and crawls over to the blanket containing his life, his heart, his entire reason for being.
“Oh shit,” an officer says. “Get him out of here. He shouldn’t see this.”
“Alexander,” he says again. He’s nearly there now. He can see the outline of a body, see a tiny hand peeking out from underneath the blanket.
The blood-soaked blanket.
His stomach heaves.
“Alexander. Alexander. ALEXANDER! ALEXANDER! ALEXANDER!!”
Someone grabs him around the waist, pulling him away. He lashes out violently, trying to get away, trying to get to the body of his boy and hold him one last time.
You’re safe now. I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Ever.
“LET ME GO!” he screams, attempting to head butt his assailant. “LET ME GO!! ALEXANDER!! ALEXANDER!!!”
The hands loosen and he dives towards the blanket. His hands tremble as he reaches out to pull it back.
“Alexander.” It sounds like a prayer. “Alexander. Please, oh God please.”
He pulls the blanket away.
A blank mannequin’s face stares back at him.
It’s not real.
It’s not him.
It’s not Alexander.
“Come on,” Detective Oliver says gently, putting her hand on his shoulder. “We need to get this photographed and to the lab.”
“It’s not him,” he whispers. A tear rolls down the bridge of his nose. “It’s not him.”
“No,” Detective Oliver says. “It’s not him. It’s not Alexander. He’s not here.”
James rises unsteadily to his feet. Something like relief washes over him. Then he sees it.
His Astro Boy watch. Strapped to the mannequin’s wrist.
There’s a message written on it in thick, black permanent marker.