Six hours away at the St. Vincent’s guest house little Max was busy cooking breakfast in the kitchenette of his studio apartment. The apartment felt like it had become more spacious after Detective Bernos had moved all of his life’s work to his office at Lee Circle. The small twelve by twelve living room was separated by a kitchen counter with an inset sink. In the rear of the kitchenette was a tiny two burner stove that was filling the room with the delicious aroma of an omelet with andouille sausage. Beyond the kitchen was room for a double bed where Detective Bernos usually slept, but the previous night, he’d fallen asleep on the couch.
John was trying to remain asleep, but even though Max was a good cook, the kitchen was hardly designed for a future fifth grader who could barely see over the counters. Max scooped the omelet out of the pan onto a plate next to the sausage and dropped the pan into the sink with a crash that caused his Dad to leap up. The crash sounded like it could have come from a marching band cymbal.
“Max, Max!”
The boy was oblivious to the sounds of the crashing pans and slamming cabinet doors as he was jamming with headphones to Spidey’s iphone. His dad rubbed sleep from his eyes, walked to the counter, and reached over to snatch his headphones off his head.
“Breakfast smells good.”
“Thanks, Dad. It’s all yours. Mrs. Cara is taking me to the French market for beignets this morning.”
“You didn’t have to cook this for me!”
“It’s cool. I was up early anyway. Hey, I’ll be right back. Mrs. Cara went to get some coffee across the street and I asked her to get you a cup. I’ll bring it up.”
Max jetted out of the apartment while his dad scarfed down half the breakfast and busied himself getting ready for work. He dressed in his suit and tie with the sling still on his arm and was looking for his pistol when he heard the slide click and the bolt release, sending a round into the chamber.
Cli-chink!
The sound resounded off the appliances as time slowed and Bernos turned slowly around to see Wayne Tyler, New Orleans premier public enemy standing in the middle of his living room holding Detective Bernos’ gun.
“Looking for this?”
Julian Polk stood behind Wayne, almost filling the whole door way with his line backer sized frame.
Chaz’s eyes met Wayne’s and he didn’t even try to hide the hate that burned in them as he stared down Wayne’s cocky smile. The air was terrifying with tension. Just as the two men neared a silent operatic crescendo where one would expect to hear ‘Damn, the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!’, Max squeezed into the room.
“Excuse me, Julian. Morning, Mr. Wayne.” He snatched the gun from the man’s hand as casually as if he were grabbing a TV remote. The boy moved with the quiet hustle of someone immune to the tension filling the room. He handed his dad a large cup of coffee which he accepted almost roboticly. Max pulled back the slide of the pistol to make sure it was loaded, then he looked over his shoulder and said, “Mr. Wayne, loaded guns without the safety on aren’t safe,”
Wayne reached into his suit and pulled his own pistol from out of his coat and turned red when he realized his weapon was not on safety.
Max slid his dad’s pistol into his shoulder holster under the sling. “Okay Dad, Mrs. Cara’s waiting. I’ve got to go.”
“Wait a second,” his dad said, then looked around for where he might have a private word with his son. He resorted to squatting down inside the kitchen counter. Max squatted down with so they were out of view. “How do you know them?” His dad’s eyebrows wrinkled into a pyramid of inquisition.
“Julian works at the shop with me sometimes,” Max replied casually.
“Oh, does he?” His tone was one of sarcasm, as if he would have liked to have been informed. He realized Max might not know what he knew about these men. He switched tactics, “How come he’s just Julian, but it’s Mr. Wayne?”
“Dad, Julian barely qualifies as a grown up. He’s like a big kid. I bet he doesn’t even have on matching socks.”
They both peeked over the counter to see Julian reclined on the couch with his feet up on the coffee table. Sure enough, Julian’s black and red Adidas jogging pants had ridden up above his ankles revealing one black sock and one white one extending out of his size sixteen shell toes.
The barely qualifying grown-up had just finished the rest of Chaz’s omelet with the plate held just below his chin and was polishing off the remaining pieces of sausage. He said with a mouthful of food, “Hey, you weren’t going to finish this, were you? It’s really good.”
“Uh…no. Go ahead, I was done.” The detective sank back into his crouch and said to Max with a chuckle, “Okay, you got that one right.”
“He’s not one of the bad ones, Dad. Plus, he’s um…you know, kinda sweet in the feet?”
Detective Bernos gave his son an incredulous look, “You mean he’s gay? No way, he’s so… huge!”
Max giggled. “Dad, I don’t think being gay is like a ride at Six Flags. You can be any size.”
A smile lit up Berno’s face, “Point taken, but I still don’t like you calling him by his first name, young man. That’s disrespectful.”
Max sighed. “Watch this, Dad.”
Max stood up and called out, “Hey, Mister Julian!”
Julian sat up and twisted his head in an S like motion and said effeminately, “Oh no, you didn’t! You don’t like to be called Little Max do you? Well, I’m nobody’s dad , nor uncle, and my momma didn’t name me Mister. So, unless you want to take it up with Mrs. Eunice Polk, just Julian will do.”
“Sorry, Julian.” Max squatted back down. “See, Dad?” he whispered.
Detective Bernos’ eyes were as big as saucers and his hand was clamped over his mouth in an effort to contain his laugh. He took a deep breath and removed his hand, “I guess just Julian will do. But that doesn’t explain how you know Wayne Tyler.”
“The night of the dance, me and Mrs. Cara went to Igor’s to eat and she was gonna meet Mr. Wayne there. He showed up for a second and said he had an emergency, so he bought our dinner and left.”
“They aren’t a couple are they?” Bernos growled.
“God, no! He’s a family friend or something like a father. He’s WAY older than her.”
“Well, don’t go telling me he’s not one of the bad guys.”
Max’s face became somber, a caricature of an older, wiser man in a child’s body. “I know, Dad. I looked him up on the internet after we met. Extortion, Arson, Conspiracy to Commit Murder. He’s definitely a bad guy. When I asked Mrs. Cara about it, she said ‘We love our friends for who they are, not what they do.’ But Dad, why is he here to see you?”
His dad’s face clouded back up. “It has to do with a case I’m working on. A wise man once said, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.”
“Dad, I’m not blind, he’s not your friend.”
“Don’t worry, Max, it’s just a case. I’m not in any trouble. You know why, don’t you?”
“Because we’re the good guys.”
Bernos hugged his son and swallowed back his tears. “Right, Max. We are the good guys.”
They stood up and walked out of the kitchen. Bernos approached the two intruders. “Well, are ya’ll ready to go?”
“Whenever you are,” Wayne answered.
Max grabbed his bag and hurried for the door. Wayne called, “Tell Cara I will meet her for breakfast tomorrow and sorry about the emergency.”