Mystery and Crime Fiction posted September 30, 2022


Excellent
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A police murder

Caught

by Elizabeth Strazisar

Date – November 3rd 2015

Time of death - 19:03

Slots have been filling up at the station. Mostly of DUI accidents, complaints at the local gas station, the occasional ‘lady’ that wastes our time. The, “I’m calling the police! I have rights!” kind of ‘lady’. If only this little girl had rights. 2015. Seven years have gone by with this case. The case closed after no further evidence was found to the devastation of her parents. Why this case was opened back up again has been a mystery to me, but, if it shows up on my desk I do the work.

“How’s the paperwork so far?”

My partner comes through the door. After three years together and 75,000 eaten doughnuts we have become pretty close. He leans against the entrance to my cubicle, coffee cup in hand.

“Going to the café without me now?” I send a sarcastic glare. “I see how it is.”

“Now, now. I would have asked you to come with me but when I stopped by you didn’t even respond.”

He leans his weight off the wall, finally coming in. Shifting over to the edge of my desk he sets down a perfectly folded paper bag. My stomach gurgles at the sight of it, my hands ready to snatch it up and gobble it down.

Before I can reach for the bag he grabs it off the desk shoving it behind his back. “Computer. Off.”

Rolling my eyes, I close out of the tab at 10:36 am. I’ve been staring at the same page for 4 and a half hours.

Nate notices my glance at the clock. Sighing under my breath I slump into my office chair. Nate’s eyes droop. His body’s tell-tale sign of stress.

 He takes out the bag, handing it to me. “Warm vanilla. Your favorite.”

The aroma immediately fills my small office sending me into a trance. 

“You have got to take a break. Staring at the reports won’t do anything to help you with this case, and I can’t have a dazed partner.”

Shoving the last bit of the doughnut in my mouth I swivel in my chair opening the tab again, only to receive a groan from Nate. “No breaks; just a recharge,” I say, balling the café bag and tossing it at him. Hitting his chest, he lets it fall to the floor.

“I mean it Sophie. What time did you come in?” 

“You don’t want to know.”

There is a beat of silence that always fills me with anxiety. Nate likes to get in his head. Draw conclusions that I would rather not face. Make assumptions without knowing much information.

“I see they moved all the paper files out. You get this fancy-shmancy laptop.”

I wave him off, keeping my eyes glued to the screen. “Oh, you’ll get one soon. Don’t be too jealous.”

It was a new thing the office was doing. To help the trees… or something… All our files were slowly being moved onto new laptops. Easy and compact. I got an email from my boss saying that everything was set up for me and that he would show me the ropes if I wanted. Obviously, I got back right away and was in my car the next minute driving to NYPD Headquarters.

He kept me company and showed me where I could find everything. That’s when I noticed this last case assigned to me. Once I looked at the information, I couldn’t take my eyes off.

He gave me permission to stay over the weekend to work. Of course this is a detail I ‘forgot’ to mention to Nate. It would only make him upset, and when he’s upset he usually doesn’t want to buy me warm vanilla doughnuts, so that detail gets swept under the rug.

 “Nate, don’t you have work to do at your office?” I ask impatiently.

“You’re no fun.” Hitting the edge of my desk he gets up and walks out. “You’re welcome for the doughnut.”

“Thank you!” I yell.

Words hover over the screen. The same words as before. The same words every time.

Incident Report – Eleven-year-old Evelyne McCray was last seen at the bookstore. One Nonfiction, “Tree Frog care 101.” One fiction, “Macy’s Blue Sky.” Ms. McCray paid $13.95 at the hour 17:51 and left the store, heading east. No transportation known or known company. Twelve minutes after her transaction, report was called from a fisherman that Evelyne had fallen off a 25 foot bridge, hitting her head on a rock on the way down.

I’ve read this paragraph over and over again, my mind stuck on one thing. Evelyne is eleven.

Was.

Evelyne was eleven years old. So young, so innocent.

And the poor fisherman. His testimony was recorded, though for some reason I don’t have access to the full testimony yet. My boss told me the important information. 71 year old man who fishes every day in the evening. Says he helped build the arch bridge back in boy scouts. His favorite spot to go, and it is now haunted by Evelyne’s scream.

He describes her scream as having such fear. A scream you would only think to hear in a horror movie.

“Ms. Hatchway?”

A knock on the side of the wall sounds, startling me from my mental funk.

“Yes boss.” I turn around tucking my pen behind my ear. “Is everything alright?”

“I would like to have a little chat with you in my office.”

He walks me out of my office into the main hallway. 

“How has your new laptop been holding up? Is everything running smoothly? Any complaints?”

His tone is cool… casual. My tightened fists ease a bit. “Nothing so far, everything has been running smoothly, sir.” I take a moment, my eyes filling with tears. “Actually yes. Looking at a screen all day is quite wearing on the eyes.”

He chuckles slightly. “Well usually there are some moments for breaks, but I haven’t seen you at any of them. We’ve missed your comedic commentary in the breakroom.”

Now it is my turn to chuckle. He pauses to see if I will say anything but the moment is short lived because we arrive at his office.

Gesturing his hand inside, he smiles, “Take a seat.”

I sit down tapping the toes of my shoes slightly on the ground.

Rolling out his seat on the other side of his desk, I wait for him to situate himself. His desk has always intrigued me. Among all the messy desks in HQ, he is the only one that I know of to keep his space tidy. A stack of post-it notes, pale yellow, obviously. Two pens, in case the first one runs out of ink. A mug that says, “Nacho Average Cop,” and a picture of his family. His wife beside him, and his two kids trying to squirm out of frame, but the moment captured just before they could complete their mission.

“So,” he says, folding his hands, “Nate says that you’ve been overworking —

I roll my eyes.

“Sophie,” he says my name gently. “He’s just worried about you. We all are.”

“Let me ask you a question, then. Why was the case of Evelyne McCray opened again? If evidence wasn’t found the first time, I’ll be darned if I can find anything the second time.”

He takes a deep breath, keeping his eyes glued to his desk. “I can always give the case to another officer.”

“No!” I stammer.

His voice is firm now, using his ‘I’m the commanding officer voice.’ “You have two choices. I give this case to someone else, or Nate helps you with this case.”

“Nate’s files are still being copied over to his laptop.” I say flatly.

“You guys are partners. I’m sure you can share. Or…” his voice trails off.

“Nate it is.” I say through clenched teeth.

He look me in my eyes, but I try my best to look anywhere else. He waits.

Glancing at him for a second, he takes that as his cue. “Listen, I know this is hard for you… With the accident… maybe it’s best…”

“I can do it,” I say.

So young, so innocent. That was my sister. That was Cassy. Her brown curls would bounce up and down as she played hop scotch, her crooked teeth that made the brightest smile to go along with her permanently blue stained tongue from ice pops that summer.

She was a “sun child.” That’s what my mom called her. Her cheeks always sun kissed and freckled. Her knees always grass stained or scraped up from concrete. Jump rope, hide and seek with her imaginary friend Billy, chasing butterflies. It was like she was Mother Nature’s child. So much light. So much life.

She got hit. It was instant. She never stood a chance. Every day when I would patch up her knees as the sun set, I never thought in a million years I would witness her whole legs being crushed or her neck distorted in a way that still haunts me.

The driver wasn’t texting, wasn’t under any influence, he just lost control or wasn’t paying attention. I can’t remember. Anytime I think back to it, all I remember are canned voices.

I was in therapy for three years after. Her death struck something in me. Something the world labels as PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Therapy helped. My therapist said I overcame it, for the most part. I still have some of the traits. Voices, shadows, visions, whispers... the list goes on.

The case has just been hard, almost impossible to focus on, and yet all I can focus on. The memory of Cassy and my sudden bursts of uncontrollable thoughts.

“I don’t want anyone to see me like this. Never mind Nate.” I say as calmly as possible.

I feel a presence behind me. Nate stands in the doorway. Getting the message loud and clear, I nod to my boss, make eye contact with Nate and walk out.

His clunky horse footsteps follow lazily behind, not too far, but definitely not too close.

Before I make it to my office I say under my breath, meet me at my apartment at four. We can talk then.

I stir the soup I have made in the heating pan. A knock comes at the door and I answer it. We stand in silence. Nate leans over the island intently watching my stirring, but quite honestly there’s not a lot to look at.

“What are you thinking?” I ask, breaking the silence.

“Why do you think I’m thinking about anything in particular?” He answers my question with a question.

“Your eyes haze over, your eyebrows tense, and you silently rub your fingertips together. Should I go on?”

I take to staring at the glowing time on the stove. Nothing special, but something to look at. I stir, counting the seconds with a steady rhythm.

“What accident?” he asks out of the blue.

 I lose my rhythm of stirring, the only thing now filling my mind is the memory of Cassy’s laugh, and then… the scream.

Was it Cassy’s scream, or the car’s? Was it both? In nightmares I can never tell. It’s always when I wake up.

I tell him. Something I thought I would never do. Well, maybe that’s a lie. I have thought about it, planned out how I would bring it up, how to make the situation seem less dark, and though I have practiced for this, it comes out in waves.

I never fully understood the five stages of grief until I was forced to live through them.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Well, I understand the first four because I still haven’t reached that last one, acceptance.

After I’m done Nate leaves to answer a phone call and I pick at the gooey cheese of my pizza that Nate ordered after I burned the soup. My appetite is gone.

When he comes back, his eyes look careful… complex.

I stay silent.

“Do you regret it?” he asks, and for a second I don’t understand what he means. But then I fit the pieces together.

“Everyday.” I start. “I regret not being outside with her. I regret not telling her I loved her when I woke her up. I regret not making her favorite fluffy pancakes. I regret not calling her in for lunch and telling her she can eat outside…”

I’ve said too much. I swallow the lump in my throat, pulling myself together. All the while Nate looks at me, his eyes still burning. He presses his fingertips together till they become white.

“That’s not what I meant.” He slows his words, hardening his voice. “I asked if you regret it.”

“… What else am I supposed to regret?”

“What would you say if I told you that I got access to the full testimony of the fisherman? Tony Alberts?”

I almost jump in my seat. “I would say that’s great. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I didn’t tell you because I was instructed not to.”

 He starts pacing but his head stays level like a hawk.

“And I want you to answer me why Mr. Alberts came into NYPD headquarters white as a ghost two weeks ago after seeing you on the side of the street. I want you to answer me why he said that he has seen you before. Not just in passing, but he saw you on the date of Miss. Evelyne’s death on that bridge with her.”

“Nate, what are you talking about?” I get up from my chair. “He’s a 71 year old man, and you think just because he described someone that looks like me means that I was a part of this?”

“I never said you were a part of it. I asked you to answer my question.” He scrunches his face.

“I don’t have anything to do with this,” I say gritting my teeth.

“And you’re saying you didn’t push Evelyne off that bridge?”

My face heats, my whole body becoming clammy. He steps closer.

You were never able to get over your sister’s death. It ruined you. It took everything joyful out of your life, and you’ve been blaming her every day for what she took from you. All it took was for you to see a little girl that looks just like Cassy—

“Don’t say her name!” I screamed.

“All it took was for you to see a young loving girl who bounces around town, and compulsion took over. You saw her and felt all you memories come back and then… you pushed her… and you ran.

“That’s why you’ve been obsessing over this case. Not because you are trying to find answers, but because you’re trying to hide them. To cover your tracks.”

Officers parade into my apartment like a flood, guns raised. I look at him, but there is no sympathy in his eyes.

“You killed Evelyne McCarty.”



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