Here’s a nibble from the new novel, PROVIDENCE:
CHAPTER ONE, 2040
The boy was thin, maybe eight years old. He wore a short-sleeved yellow shirt and blue pajama pants and a tight black cap. It was cold and damp and he had no shoes. Officer McManus pulled the car to the curb. How the hell, he thought, do kids get left out in this weather?
“Let’s get you out of this cold.” He offered the boy a hand.
The boy hesitated but he was shivering and wanted to leave this place. It was a city but not what he had expected when he left home. He took the officer’s hand. The leather glove felt like a huge paw. He jerked away and ran. There was a screech of brakes, horns, deafening. The boy froze in the median.
“Hey, kid!” McManus grabbed the boy by the arm. “What are you doing running into the street like that? Where’s your mother?”
Cobalt stopped struggling. He had not thought about his mother when he left. His only thought had been to find his father. He knew that his father had wanted to visit a city, but he did not know if he himself had landed in the same city.
The officer kept one arm around the boy, pinning him to his side while he activated his radio. “Dispatch, dispatch, McManus here. I’ve got one for Child Services. Boy, no parent present, in danger of vehicular harm and exposure.”
Cobalt understood nothing the man had said except the word child. It was scary to be held so close. Then again, the big man was warm and Cobalt shivered. Cold was a new sensation.
“Now, I’m going to put you in the car. It’s warm and safe, and I want you to sit like a good boy until someone comes for you. Got that?”
The officer loosened his grip a fraction and Cobalt twisted free. But McManus knew kids and he managed to grab enough shirt to keep the boy from running again.
“That’s it, son.” He picked Cobalt up and carried the boy squirming and thrashing to the car. “Man, I could use a partner about now.” McManus felt his blood pressure rise and his ears burn. If this kid got loose and ran off, he’d be frostbitten or dead before morning and then there’d be more hell to pay in the shorthanded department, maybe another write-up for the press to chew on.
He wrestled the boy into the backseat and buckled him into the middle section. Just in time he slammed the door as the boy popped open the seat belt. McManus slid behind the wheel and started the engine. No point waiting for help. It wouldn’t come. In the rearview he saw the boy’s eyes go wide and his thin jaw fall, like he’d never heard an engine before. Well, he hadn’t. Cobalt had never been in a car before.
McManus drove with one eye on the rearview. The boy was flinging himself from one side of the vehicle to the other. If he didn’t stop, he’d be a mess of bruises by the time they reached Boys Cottage. He radioed ahead, “Dr. Coogan on duty today? We’ll need her. This boy’s gonna be a mess. Bruised fruit’s got nothing on him.”
The big overhead door to the intake area creaked and squealed. McManus drove into the bay as lights came on and the social services guy came to the car. The big door closed.
“You get ahold of the doc?” McManus asked.
Donald nodded. “Is the kid talking? Do we have a name? Anything to go on?”
“I got nothin’. He’s been thrashing like a wild animal. Tried to run first thing.”
“He was in traffic?”
“Damned near got hit. Right on Broadway, wet pavement. And believe me, Don, he’s fast. He just came out of nowhere. I mean, I had just looked at that spot—nothin’. I look away, back, and boom! There’s a kid right on the edge of the curb, no coat, no shoes, just what you see.”
Donald leaned and looked into the back seat. The boy had scooted to the opposite side of the patrol car and drawn into a ball. He had face paint—tear drops—on his cheeks.
“Face paint? Any carnivals or kid fairs?”
“Nope, I thought of that too. Nothin’. It’s like this kid fell out of the sky, like the stork dropped its cargo. But he’s no baby. He’s been somewhere and I’d damned well like to know where.”