The Catalyst

Brick by Brick

Tyler Kovalcik and Ian Croucher

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The worst thing that can happen to you is become a cliche. Never realize till it’s too late, then you’re ten feet into a Sam Spade mystery you didn’t sign up for. Realization hit me in the form of a dead sixteen year old. He coughed up blood like a thirty year smoker coughs up reasons to quit. Iron in the air like a steel mill. Me and him sat holding onto each other with steel vice while we forgot about the two dead bodies this started with, and the one that sat against the stone wall of this overpass, and focused on the one final dead body I promised this would end with. His.


Kid trusts me to tell the truth. Get the word out. His hand holds onto my back like a kitten holds on to the couch when it’s trying not to fall off. We both know he falls when he lets go. We both know he won’t have a chance to get back up afterwards, too.

“You tell ‘em, Milo… You gotta let people know what happened here…” The kid coughs up every word from the back of his throat with raw determination to make sure that if it’s his last, he says what he’s gotta. “People need to know the truth…” I want to help. I really do. But how can I help spread the truth on a matter no one gave a damn about when it was muddled with lies? It makes me wonder if I can keep the promise I give him between his wet breaths. Makes me wonder if it’s even worth trying. Makes me wonder if that makes me a bastard. Probably does.

Still, to spread the truth about something, you gotta know the story. There’d be no Woodward and Bernstein if no one even knew what Watergate was. (Did I just compare myself to Woodward and Bernstein?)

Some angry dance beat smothers the crowds of neon-ridden, cocaine-fueled twenty-year-olds like scornful wives. I’ll let you figure out that metaphor for yourself. It’s hard to hear yourself think. Harder to stay in here sober for five minutes. My track moves to the bar with reluctant speed. I don’t know what I ordered. Not on account of the booze, but more so on account of the thump thump thumping bullet train of drums driving its way deeper and deeper into my skull, making it harder to remember my own name, much less the drink. Client wanted to meet here. I’m sure you can tell by my description that I can’t exactly imagine why anyone would want anything to do with this place.

A kid walks up to me with some nervous force carrying his legs. It’s pulling him by the shoulders to me. I give him a look from beneath the poison as he reaches into his coat. I do the same, acting like I’m checking my watch. In reality, my callused fingers wrap around the loving wooden handle of my Colt.

“Milo Elliot?” The Kid questions. I give a nod, unbuttoning the clasp on my holster and putting my finger on the trigger. “You sure?” He questions.

“No.” I reply with a growl. “I can’t remember whether I’m Elliot or Manson. You the jerk who brought me here?”

The Kid nods, pulling out a paper and an envelope. “Sorry… I just thought you’d be… Y’know…”


The Kid nods.

“Good. You noticed. Why couldn’t you choose somewhere nice? Like a morgue?” I criticize. He stares at me with wide brown eyes. He can’t speak. One look at him tells me he’s seen something. He’s pale as Washington’s ghost. He’s shaking at an 8.5 on the Richter scale. He looks fourteen, maybe fifteen. I pull a few dollars from my coat pocket, and set it down in front of the bartender, gesturing for the kid to follow. I lead him to the bathroom. Where I can finally hear myself think.

The kid gives me a newspaper clipping.Ten kids missing from an orphanage near the west side of town. Owner gone, too. I give it a once over and scowl. “I don’t do baby sitting, kid.” I say softly, reading the article.

“That’s where I live.” The Kid said meekly, looking me over. He notes the leather trench coat any self respecting cliche wears. Notes the ebony skin and dark eyes. The puffy hair. He acts like he’s never seen a black man before. “My friend Jason. He left. He took a lot of the older kids with him..” I nod.


“People are starting to think the man who ran the house, Mr. Deckard, died. They’re starting to suspect he might’ve been killed.”

“One in a million. Why does he care?”

“They think Jason did it.”

“Did he?”


“One in a million. How much am I getting for this?”

The Kid pulls out the money kept inside the envelope. I count it.

“This is bus fare, kid.”

“Please…” I can’t help but feel bad for him. No family but this one kid, Jason. Now that’s gone. And here he begs for help. This is the first time I’ll ask the question of whether or not I’m a bastard. Not the last. I push the money back into his chest.

“Pro bono.” I say reluctantly. The kid almost seems like he’ll drop to his knees, but I catch him. Pulling him back into reality, I look him in the eyes. “Where do I start?”


Jason moves his eyes down the sleek wet black roads outside the gates of hell. He stares at the brick building for a good ten minutes before the courage finally rustles its way to the surface. It’s harder than asking Jennifer Cunningham to junior prom, but that’s the closest memory he can associate with this type of fear. He skitters towards the orphanage quoting Dante. He readies himself for the possibility that his first step in while either be greeted with cuffs, or a bullet to the head by someone trying to find Reinhardt and every scrap he owns. Police tape forbids him from entering, but he convinces himself that if the police really wanted him to stay out, they would’ve put up a wall instead of such easily surpassable plastic.

The inside is dead. Empty. This old place was never anything to be marveled at, but now, with all the kids moved to different homes, and the staff missing, it seemed apocalyptic. There was something screaming at him from above. Begging him to enter Deckard’s room. Begging him to take a look at his secrets. Jason was a gentleman: never the type to turn down such a loving invitation. Reluctant muscles forced up the stairs like a shadow. No one was here, and he knew that, but he still ignored every creaky floorboard like plague. Maybe it was some part of the kid who snuck out during the night to eat candy after lights out sticking onto him in his most adult of times. Maybe it was him covering his back just in case, but either way, some weird part of him was thankful for the involuntary action.

Deckard’s room was a mess. Papers were strewn across the whole room with complete disabandon. Most those on the wooden floors were dry and crisp from the abundance of blood seeping into their fibers. “Jesus…” He muttered, holding back vomit. They had barely even tried cleaning the blood. Jason held back vomit as he stumbled to the desk by the window. A slur of curses flew from his mouth in such a way they could kill a man. Vibrant blue eyes began surveying the desk, realizing the glinting glass that was still splayed across its dark mahogany tops. The window was shattered open. Jason looked out the window to see a white chalk outline of a contorted form. He could still sense Deckard’s soul. It left a trail through the room and out the window. He could smell the cheap cologne he was so insistent on wearing.

One of the notes caught his eye. It was off to the left of the room, next to the tipped over coat rack, and in the blood’s main source, where it splattered across the walls, and trickled down in waves and waterfalls to the floor, where it pooled into a fast, cracking ocean of crimson and iron essence, that would occasionally splinter away with the gaps between the floorboards. The reason it caught his attention was because of the fact it was closer to the source than any other, as if Deckard had maybe been holding onto it during the time of the attack. There were no other papers near it. Delicately, he picks the paper up as it cracks like a dead leaf. His eyes scan over the words written in feverish patience. A small breath leaves his lungs and shakes his body as he tries to process the words written. It’s hard to read them, smothered in blood like this, but it’s even harder to try and believe what they’re saying.

Before he gets much of a chance to even try, a loud crack sounds through the old home. Jason shoots towards the door of the room, as a deep, gruff voice reverberates through the home.

“Anyone home?”

Jason’s breathing hitches. He moves like a snake to the railing of the upper floors plateau above the stairs, watching as a tall, dark shadow, pulls papers out from the reception desk. He stands still for a bit. Fear moves its scaly tongue up Jason’s spine, causing ice to shoot out through his vertebrae and freeze him in place. The man begins moving closer. Jason backs away, slowly, and reaches for whatever he can grab. A brick in this case. Loud thumps begin as the man made his way up towards the upper floor. Jason gripped tightly at the brick, and before he could process much, the brick went flying towards the man’s skull. His throw missed, and the brick cracked in half behind the man. As the man fell backwards out of surprise, Jason lept over the railing, landing behind the man. “CRAP!” The man yells. Jason doesn’t waste a second bolting, as a white flash flies over the the room. “STOP!” The man orders. Another flash, and a crack, as Jason feels of sharp pain slam its way across his side. Jason stumbles, but scrambles up to his feet, flying out the doorway with a whimper of pain leaving his lips. Two more shots come flying past him, but he’s gone. He’s out the door, and flying across town as fast as he can, leaving the orphanage far behind.


He’s gone by now. I’m sliding a new clip into my Colt when I realize it. I stand silent for a moment, catching breath and taking inventory. My hands unravel the crinkling paper like an ancient scroll, looking it over one last time. Inventory. On the people who worked here, and information on how to find them. I pull out a pen, taking the cap in my mouth and tugging the pen out, crossing the name at the top out. “Wylen Deckard.” I’ll get no information from him, considering now he’s being peeled open like a tuna can down at city morgue. My head tells me that said morgue should be my next destination, while the bags under my eyes tell me my next should either be in search for a warm bed or a dose of adderall.

Whoever he was must’ve been on some substance. Skinny little thing shattered the brick against the wall when he threw it at me. The paper folds willingly, and I hide it and the pen inside my breast pocket, while I unsheathe my flashlight, and click it on. Grey and brown dust plagues the stairs. Half a brick lies on the other side of the stairwell, and it begs for a once over. I happily oblige, lifting it and expecting it to be hell on my sore muscles, but lift it all too easily. “Hollow?” I’m no mason now, and I sure as hell wasn’t one back then, either, but something told me bricks weren’t usually two or three millimeters thick, and two inches of an empty pocket. It felt like a trick Escobar would use to smuggle powder into Miami.This wasn’t Miami, though. It was a bad city, yeah, but I doubted an orphanage was responsible for the places drug trade.

I make a note. As I move upstairs, every door is opened slowly and carefully, expecting another living shadow to pop out and attack. The first two are made up of four to six different bunks, two to three sets on each wall, made of steel piping, like you would see at boot camp, except the beds looked even more comfortable than the one I had back at home. They were stripped bare, and each had it’s own array of stains, complimenting their personalities.

The next room had no window. The building had no electricity, so I began scanning the area with my flashlight. More bricks. A few easels. But mostly bricks, and caked concrete on the walls, tables and floors. I take a small step in. It looks like a sweat-shop trying to hide behind the facade of a child’s art classroom, and something told me that’s exactly what it was. I grab a brick sitting in a pile on top of the short, plastic craft table, and throw it onto the ground. It breaks open. Hollow. I repeat the act about eight more times before something reflects the beam of white light off its surface. It sounds off in protest as I lift it. Clear bag. White powder. I don’t taste it, and I don’t have to, to know what it is.

Whops and howls ring off the walls with a stinging pain. Rough paws hit against clattering metal while screams of desperation ring from the cages. Jason never liked dogs. They reminded him of one day when he was younger, when a dog bite left him bedridden for a month due to infection. They reminded him of how Brandon spent every night crying and praying his brother would be ok. Of how much Brandon loved them. Of how that house had ruined them.

He winced with every single poke in his skin. Beside him sat a veterinarian, tearing into his flesh with needle and wire, sewing the graze together. The vets name was Martin Rivin. A friend of his parents, when they were alive. Ironically, he was also a veteran, of Vietnam. He was older now, but good with his hands. And good with Jason. They talked about his parents, and how they used to have nights spent with Martin, and his wife. Bar crawls and nights in alike usually catered to the same ending. Shining, happy people. Shining, happy people, with children to return home to.

“What’s Brandon doing?” Martin asked, trying not to pry at exactly how Jason got his wound.

“…” Jason couldn’t exactly reply. Or at least, he couldn’t think of a proper reply. Martin took this as a queue to not talk about Jason’s brother. Silence fell between the two, listening in to the yaps and screams of lonely dogs. Finally, Jason broke.

“I’m staying under the little stone bridge that leads into Old Town.” Jason said softly. “I’ve been there ever since the orphanage closed down.”

“You hadn’t been adopted?”

Jason shook his head. “People aren’t looking forward to adopting someone turning seventeen in a few weeks.” Jason admitted. “They think I killed Mr. Deckard.”

“Jesus, Jason…” Martin finished the stitches, and leaned back, looking up at the kid with concern.

“I didn’t. I haven’t killed anyone yet.”



“Jason, I can let you do something like you’re gonna regret. Not in good conscious.”

“I’m not asking you too. I’m not asking your permission. I’m not asking your advice. I’m not here for forgiveness or some bullshit moral lesson. I’m here because I got shot and I can’t die before I finish what I set out to do.”

“How much does Bran know about this?”

“Bran’s dead, Mr. Rivin. That’s part of why I’m here. I know you help some bad men. Percy Reinhardt. How often is he in here?”

“Jason, I’m not telling you anything. Not if it means someone is getting hurt.”

A clap sounded, and the barking grew into a deafeningly loud refrain. The doctor felt held lead push its way into his femur. He gasped, and fell from his seat, watching as Jason pulled the smoking revolver from his coat pocket, away from the new hole formed there.

“You’re no saint, Mr. Rivin. And I have no problem killing you on the spot. After I get what I want.”

“Jason! Christ, I’m like you’re family! You can’t kill me!” A click sounded as the hammer came backwards, and Jason aimed the gun to the doctors head.

“You were like family to my mom and dad. But you haven’t done a damn thing for me besides the stitches. Reinhardt. Where is he?”

The doctor divulges. He prays and gives out all the information he can as Jason considers whether or not he’s worth the bullet.


“I-I’m bleeding out… N-no… It was the kid… He’s gone now… Says he’s going home… The bridge… He’s staying beneath the bridge… Old Town, yeah… No… Just show the kid who he’s messing with..”


I was once again told by instinct where to go. I was once again better off for it, more or less. My stomach was letting out a resounding and unignorable scream to go after the art teacher. It was a small case that revolved too heavily around these damned bricks. Empty pinch pot looking things. You could tell by the indents on the inside they were pinched together by kids, and then the outsides flattened out by a scraper of sorts.

I’d looked into Reinhardt. He was shady. Folks I knew underground recognized his face making a deal or two in place of some small time bangers and movers. I didn’t know whether or not he had anything to do with product, but I had pieced together by this point that he had been using these hollowed out bricks as ways to move drugs across town without much suspicion. He owned a landscaping business, most likely as a cover. One I had also looked into. It makes too much for the small staff and smaller amount of jobs.

So that’s where we were now. Me and him, headed towards old town. He didn’t know about the tail I had on him, as far as I knew, and I didn’t know what was going on or why any of it was happening. Why involve kids in business like this? Even without them knowing, why involve them in the drug business?

I knew a lot of folks involved in selling, both from my days on the force, and my days rummaging around in underground businesses alike. (It became apparent to me, following him, how similar the two had become in my mind.) I had met a lot of cold-hearted monsters who wouldn’t frankly care about mowing down children to send a message to some lame art teacher who isn’t delivering on his end of the bargain.

His care came to a halt. I watched it from about a block away, as the metal beast lurched forwards and back again. He left the side of the care like some sort of boogeyman. Tales of Baba Yaga creeped their way into my head, though I liked Baba Yaga infinitely more than I ever liked this guy.

I watched him pull the long dark rod from the back of his car. From here I could make out just enough to tell it was a baseball bat. He began moving downwards through tall, wet grass. Unease settles into me as lightning cracks ahead. I follow after him. My hand stays near my gun.

I follow him about a mile, down a small creek that leads towards the sewers. Rain begins to tip tip tap against my skull. Before long we’re under a bridge. Another shadow emerges from the bridge to meet him. I stay under the grass, and begin to move closer. Echoed yells shattered through the air, but I don’t understand. It’s muted by angry claps from the gods. There’s a flash, and Reinhardt stumbles back as five more fire off from Reinhardt himself.

I run. Reinhardt collapses against the wall, and I grab someone. He’s a kid. He’s THE kid. The kid I’m trying to clear. I see the baseball bat, and it’s no bat. It’s a rifle. The kid explains his story. How the kid had a brother who fell into the kiln at the art class and burned himself dead. How when the owner, Deckard, found out, Reinhardt killed him. How the kid saw it. How he got framed. How I’m his only chance. We introduce ourselves, formally, as I see beacons rise above, and more steel beasts with cold blooded monsters file out. I can hear the clatter of guns.

The kids dead now. He died KNOWING I’m getting the truth out, when in actuality, I probably won’t make it out of the creek. He died knowing a lie. Believing in falsehoods and lies. And I let him. This is where the circle ends. Of dead boys and lies upon their lips. And me seemingly at the center now, letting it happen. This is where the circle ends. With me asking that question again. With me asking:

Am I a bad person?

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