With a smile on his face, Cole Caldwell began walking home after a great evening with friends. He loved his brother, but it was nice to have time to himself. It wasn't that Morgan didn't like Cole's friends, but rarely could his brother drop the cop persona enough to let loose, and Cole was all about letting loose. He might be a cop as well, but that didn't mean he didn't know how to leave work at the office and have fun occasionally.
He grinned, thinking about Morgan, the big bad cop. Cole might give Morgan a hard time, but he loved that his brother was so passionate about the job. Although Cole enjoyed being a policeman, their jobs couldn't have been more different. While Morgan scoured the streets as a detective, Cole worked as a full-time policeman on duty at a local junior high school. There were some in the department who called his job glorified babysitting, but Cole didn't agree. Getting to kids before they started down the wrong path was incredibly rewarding to him.
With his hands stuffed into the pockets of his black hoodie, Cole neared his condo, still floating on his good mood. A sound from the alley off to his left caught his attention. He thought it was an injured or hungry animal, but the more he heard, the more he realized it was a man moaning. His first thought was someone was getting lucky in the depths of the alley, but the sobbing that soon followed dispelled that belief immediately.
Cole ventured into the alley, his hands fisted at his sides. "Hello?"
The crying stopped and Cole waited for an answer. When none came, he headed for the row of trashcans. He spotted a form huddled against the grimy brick wall and knelt down. "Do you need some help?"
The shadow huddled closer to the wall. "No."
A glimpse of the battered face in front of him was all it took for Cole to slip into professional mode. He dealt with kids all the time and knew how to talk to them.
"My name's Cole," he said in a gentle tone. "I realize you don't know me from Adam, but I'm offering to help you. If you stay out here in the open, you're a pretty easy target for others who might want to hurt you."
He watched as the boy's head turned toward the direction Cole had come.
"No, there's no one behind me," Cole soothed. "You're safe for now."
Trying to downplay his vocation, Cole opted to say, "I work in a school, so I know I can help you if you'll just let me." Cole took a chance and held out his hand. "Let me get you cleaned up and some food in your belly. I promise I won't do anything you don't want me to."
"No cops, no hospitals," the shadowed boy murmured.
Cole grinned. Well, he couldn't rightly promise no cops, but he could promise not to contact the police department. "I promise I won't call the police, but I think I need to look at your injuries before promising anything on the hospital side of things."
Cole let loose a sigh of relief. "So, will you let me help you?"
The injured boy eventually reached out and took Cole's hand.
"What's your name?" Cole asked, helping the boy to his feet.
Cole could tell how unsteady Robby was on his feet. "Would it be okay if I wrapped my arm around your waist to help you walk to my condo?" He was met by silence for several long moments. "I promise I'm not going to hurt you."