Regret

If you were accusing my son, I wouldn’t let him talk to you in a million years. — A Sex Crimes detective, on talking to the police.

 

Spencer stood as the judge asked the clerk to read the jury’s findings. Dressed in light blue, with a clean shave of innocence, Spencer fingered the seam of his dark dress pants. His oxford dress shirt stuck to his back, damp from the steady stream of sweat that had run down his spine all morning. None of the jury members looked at him. He stared at them. Almost begging for a quick glance to tell him it would be okay. His lawyer stood next to him. He, too, looked for a sign. Throughout the day of witness testimony and breaks, Spencer mumbled the same mantra under his breath: “This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.” Nothing had changed in the ten months since I’d arrested him, since the day Nick called me about the case.

 

“Sorry for waking you, Detective. This is Candy from the Comm Center. I have 150-A, Deputy Nick Kessler on the line, asking to speak to Sex Crimes.” My head is on my pillow, the phone stuck to my ear. I hope I heard her wrong. 150-A means midnights in Zone 50, home to the Disney Internship Program. Kids on their own for the first time, on vacation from Mom and Dad.

“Can I put him through, or do you need a minute?”

I breathe deeply through my nose and sit up reluctantly. I take another breath and stare at the wall, struggling to wake up. My wife stirs, and I make my way to the kitchen in the dark.

“Detective?”

“I’m here. You can put him through.” The line disconnects momentarily, and I lean against the counter. The light from the microwave blinks 3:17 in the morning. Nick isn’t a brand new deputy calling to tell me what he’s got. He spent ten years in the Criminal Investigations Division. He finally got tired of the call-outs and the adverse effects that the constant triaging of cases had on his social life. For the last six months, he’s been back on the road, taking a vacation from CID. So, if Nick is calling, I am going to be up for a while. He doesn’t call for nothing.

“Go ahead, Detective—he’s on the line.”

“Good morning, Detective,” Nick says, as if he’s Ricardo Montalban on the welcoming dock of Fantasy Island—“Smiles, everyone! Smiles!”—except that he follows with “Living the dream, baby! Living the dream.” This is his line whenever the day begins with overtime.

“Just tell me if I need to come out, Nick, because if you’re just calling to let me know what you got, then I’m going to have to wait until noon, when you’re sleeping, to call you back.”

“Whoa. Don’t shoot the messenger,” he says, laughing. “My girl here was banging on dorm doors, crying for help, saying she was raped, and now her mom is on the phone from South Carolina screaming holy hell. Trust me. You’re coming out.”

“The mom is there?” I ask. The kitchen is brightening in the soft glow of numbers, clearing my sleep cobwebs. There is a commotion coming from the other end, somewhere behind Nick.

“No. She’s been on the phone with her parents. They’re threatening to sue Mickey Mouse. Hold on. Ma’am, please step—” Nick covers the phone and says something out of earshot. “Sorry, Vance. Your victim keeps calling me Andy Taylor. Earlier she was calling my partner Barney Fife.”

“Is she drunk?”

“If she’s not, she’s got a good act. Anyway, she’s not coming off the rape.”

“Stupid cracker bi—” someone says before he covers the phone again.

“Who was that?” I ask. “Nick?”

The phone stays muffled. “Please, ma’am—”

“Who is that?”

“Sorry,” Nick says into the phone.

“Who was that?” I ask again, but he ignores the question.

“We do have a scene. Liquor bottles, bed sheets, and a used tampon.”

“A used tampon?” I feel like I’m still dreaming. I stifle a yawn and my ears plug, dampening the voice coming through the phone.

“In the bathroom garbage, and she can’t remember how it got there. You want me to call forensics?”

“I’ll send forensics to you. Did someone just call you a cracker bitch?” I ask, knowing full well that Nick does not let things like this sway him. Whatever a person says or does to undermine their account of the alleged crime, this is still just a case number to Nick—nothing personal, just business—and nothing will stop him from working it into the ground. He just makes sure to put it all in his report. If they stick with a bad story, it’s still just another case number to him. He’s not the one putting people in jail, the lawyers are.

“Are you going to come here, or do you want to meet her at the SATC?”

“It sounds like she’d do better to be removed from the area,” I say, trudging toward the bathroom to get cleaned up. “I trust you can cover the scene, right?”

“You’re not sending your secondary?”

Normally, I would send another detective to cover the crime scene with CSI, but why muddy the waters with another person to testify? “If it was any other deputy, Nick, I would; but since you’re fully capable…”

“No, I got it,” he says. I can see his jovial red face in my head. “Living the dream, baby!”

“Yeah,” I say, flipping the receiver closed and reaching for my toothbrush.

 

Less than an hour later, I step into the interview room of the Sexual Assault Treatment Center and find Emily already seated in the overstuffed, blue-vinyl chair. She looks small in the spartan room, like a twelve-year-old: baby-doll shoes, matching blue denim jeans and jacket, her hair swept back. I sit across from her, set my digital recorder next to me, and introduce myself.

“Nice to meet you,” she says in a lilting southern accent, just above a whisper. There is no mention of Barney. No Andy. No “cracker” anything. Sitting here quietly, she’s as sober as a nun.

I smile at her, explaining that I will be recording our conversation so she won’t have to write down what happened. “I know this can be daunting, but I’m here to help, okay?”

Emily nods politely, but her body is tense and ramrod straight in her chair.

“Where are you from, Emily?” I ask, hoping to make her feel more at ease.

“South Carolina.”

“Well, that explains the accent,” I say, pressing the record button on the digital recorder. “This is Detective Vance Voyles, and I will be in the room with…” I motion to her. “Emily Evans.” I tell the recorder the case number, the time of day, and where we are. “Emily, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

“I do.”

“Can you tell me why we are here this morning?”

“Because Spence raped me?” she says, her eyebrows raised in uncertainty.

I try to smile to calm her nerves. “I’m sorry, Emily, are you asking me or telling me?”

“What?”

“I asked you to tell me why we’re here, and you said you were raped. But you said it like a question. Like you’re not sure.”

“Well, to be honest, I’m not.”

“Okay.” This is not new. This should be easy to fix. I’ll be home sooner than I thought. “What do you think happened?”

“Well, I was sleeping…in my room…and my roommate woke me up, crying, saying Spence raped me.”

“You didn’t know?”

“It was my first time drinking.”

There is a knock on the door, and the deputy who drove Emily to the SATC pokes her head into the room. “I’m sorry, Detective. Can I speak to you for a second?”

Does it look like it? I think. But Emily is calm, and my getting pissy with another deputy isn’t good for our image, especially in this place of peace and tranquility. I turn off the recorder and excuse myself.

In the hallway, I notice the victim advocate standing by the bathroom door, ready to pounce and give Emily a hug, if necessary. The treatment center is just an old house, remodeled after the hospital across the street went up. Old walls painted bright white over heavy spackle. It’s supposed to be a safe environment in a troubling time. Posters of young girls just prior to victimization are taped haphazardly to the walls. Subliminal messages on boyfriends too good to be true, friends looking out for friends, and the perils of drinking too much. Propaganda and rhetoric about respect, abuse, and victim rights, expertly designed to get victims to press charges. It’s a government building with feelings.

“These are the statements we collected on the scene. One is from the roommate, and another is from her boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend? But I thought—” I say, tearing the pink carbon copies off. “Then who is the suspect?”

“Some guy she met at work,” she says.

“But the boyfriend was there, too?”

“No. He came after.”

I quickly read over the originals before handing them back. Everybody drinking. Too drunk to drive. Work guy sleeps it off in Emily’s room. Roommate kicks work guy out after hearing noises. Boyfriend comes to the rescue.

“Thanks.”

“You need anything else from me?” It’s close to her quitting time.

“No, but if you want to sit in on the interview, you can,” I say, smiling. I’ll take any opportunity to train patrol deputies in the way we do things. “We might even get to do a controlled phone call.”

 

When I enter the interview room at Central Operations two hours later, the sweet smell of malt has already filled the air. Upon my request, deputies made contact with Spencer at his dorm room. He answered the door on the third knock, his eyes glassy with sleep, and squinted at the deputies with a faint recognition. He didn’t struggle as they put his hands behind his back and locked the handcuffs. Spencer now sits in the corner, still cuffed and still wearing the red-striped shirt that Emily described in her sworn statement.

“Morning, Spencer. My name is Detective Voyles.” I set my case file on the chair opposite him. “Stand up for a second so I can get those cuffs off you.”

“Can you tell me why I’m here?” Spencer says as he stands, turning away from me.

I step to his side and pull his arm upward. “The guy who put these cuffs on you locked them all backwards.” I fumble with the key before unlocking him. “That’s better. Have a seat.” I move my file to the floor and sit down across from him. Reaching into my ID holder, I pull out a preprinted Miranda card. “Since you were put in handcuffs—something I didn’t want done, mind you—technically, you’re not free to leave.”

“Well, no kidding,” Spencer says, rubbing his wrists. “Are you going to tell me—”

I hold up my finger. “And since you are not free to leave, I have to read you your rights before we start talking about why you are here.”

“Fine, but I can save you the time. I’m going to want to speak to my lawyer.”

“Are you sure, Spencer? Because—”

“Why am I here?” he asks again.

“It’s about Emily.”

Spencer hangs his head and begins to shake it from side to side. He knew it as soon as he saw the police at his door. When I saw Emily in the SATC, she was cute. Halle Berry-esque. This guy is a mutt. Greasy hair. Flabby gut. Discount rack all the way. The only way she would have hooked up with him is if she’d been drunk. He needs to tell me this, tell me that she drank of her own accord. People do stupid things when they are drunk. Many a country song has been written about it.

“And I think that this is something you need to—should—talk to me about.”

Spencer doesn’t look up.

“But if you ask for a lawyer, then all I have is her word.” They tell us not to do this. He asked for a lawyer. Nothing he says from here on out will be used against him. But it can be used to help him. I have no hidden agenda. “I’m not trying to trick you, Spencer. I just don’t like having only one side of the story. I don’t trust—”

Spencer looks up. “I’m sorry, Detective—what did you say your name was?”

“Voyles. Detective Voyles.”

“Right. I’m sorry, Detective Voyles, but my father always told me not to talk to the police. No disrespect.”

“None taken. After all, I was just about to read that you do indeed have that right.” I stand up and grab the handcuffs again. “Can you turn around, please?”

“Wait. Why?”

“You want a lawyer, so there are no more questions, Spencer,” I say as I lock the cuffs back in place.

“So I’m still under arrest?”

I can hear the surprise in his voice. As if his mentioning an attorney was some get-out-of- jail-free card. It doesn’t work that way. This isn’t television.

“Yes, Spencer, for the sexual battery of Emily Evans.”

“So you’re taking me to jail now?”

“First, my desk. I have to write the charging affidavit. Then jail.”

 

Minutes later, Spencer is sitting on the couch next to my desk, talking again. “I’m sorry, Detective. I know you’re trying to write, but sexual battery? That’s rape, right?”

“Yes.” Part of me laughs at this small talk. When I came into the interview room, he was polite, but holier than thou. It wasn’t what he said; it was how he said it. My father always told me not to talk to the police. So busy not talking. So busy not listening.

“Emily says I raped her?”

“According to sworn, written statements, Emily isn’t the only one. Some girl walked in on you.”

“Melissa? She sent me a text after she kicked me out, but—”

“Listen, Spencer. I wanted to talk to you about this. I really did. But you asked for a lawyer. If you want to un-invoke your right to counsel, on tape, then we can discuss it.”

“And if I do that, you’ll un-arrest me?”

“No. Once you’re arrested, the clock starts ticking.”

“But I didn’t rape her.”

“I didn’t say you did. She said that. You said you wanted a lawyer. That combination didn’t give me much choice.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that before you arrested me?”

“I’m not allowed.” I’m starting to feel the morning, and my lack of sleep is pissing me off. “It’s called coercion, Spencer, and it would have violated your rights.”

“So you just arrest me on her word?”

You, and the hundred that came before you, I think. If I had a dime for every guy caught up in a he said, she said. Case number such and such: Two girls on vacation with their families get caught sneaking in late after having a ménage à trois with this cute little seventeen-year-old surfer they met. What happens in Florida stays in Florida; that is, until they find their dads waiting for them at the beach condo. Then it’s, he raped us. We didn’t want to do it. And now Dude Spicoli is up against two counts of sexual battery. That is all it takes to be a sexual predator. Two felony convictions. No more school. No good introductions to dads down the road. Nowhere to go but to the closet of your mother’s house to hang yourself after bailing out of jail. We don’t play in Florida. No sir.

“Her word, the statements, the phone call earlier this morning where you told her you guys had sex. All that.” When the deputy and I walked back into the room with Emily, we scripted out what she needed to say. We prepared her for his answers and dialed his number for her. We made it easy, that awkward morning-after call. Almost as easy as swallowing the morning-after pill she was handed after her rape kit was completed.

“We were drunk. We were in bed, and one thing led to another. There was no rape.”

I stare at Spencer in silence. He’d said all of this on the phone before I even met him. “Get him talking, Emily. He’ll apologize and admit the sex was a mistake.” It was all too easy. Spencer did what every fly stuck in a spider’s web does: he squirmed.

“What do you mean you don’t remember? Of course we had sex. I thought you were into it. Are you kidding me? How could you not know we were having sex? We made out. We were drinking. Maybe it was a mistake. I hope this doesn’t ruin our friendship.”

And it’s all recorded. Sometimes, I feel bad. Sometimes.

What I wouldn’t give for a magic megaphone, for the ability to scream into the ears of every young, horny guy on the planet. For this oh-so-valuable, sought-after friendship, sex must be the icing, not the cake.

If only he hadn’t asked for a lawyer, hadn’t laid that blanket of guilty conscience on himself when I asked him to talk about it. Had he given me his half of the he said, she said, I would have let him go home. Maybe I’d forget that he’d been in cuffs for a little while and apologize to the state attorney when the case packet arrived too late to pursue the matter. What’s the saying? It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission? Detectives are people too. But he didn’t come at this right. Grown men shouldn’t ask for their daddies.

“Then why did you ask for a lawyer, Spencer?”

Spencer looks confused. He sits back in the couch.

“If this is all such an innocent mistake, what do you need the lawyer for?”

Spencer doesn’t answer. He just hangs his head and breathes deeply. I turn back around and start typing.

“So there’s nothing I can do to stop this from happening?” he says to my back.

I swivel around and look him in the eyes. “Not today. At least, not right now. But your lawyer can. You also have the right to a speedy trial. So don’t waive speedy. I’ll write what you have told me, and maybe you’ll get lucky and the state will dump it. Better yet, maybe Emily will change her mind. It happens all the time, Spencer. Eighty percent, usually.”

I don’t have to tell him this. But I heard the spitfire in Emily’s voice while I was talking to Nick on the phone. She was supposed to be drunk, but in the interview room, there was nothing. No slurring. No bloodshot eyes. No telltale smell of the sickly sweet alcohol seeping out of her pores. She was acting out a role, just like me. I am the police. She is the victim. My hands are tied.

I’m not supposed to feel this way. My job is to stand for the victim when she cannot stand for herself. She’s not supposed to make a vitriolic rage rise up in my throat. I am supposed to feel compassion for her and wrath against him. It’s what I was taught in the academy. It’s what I grew up watching on television. I want to rewind time and take them aside before they started to drink that night. I want to be Samuel Beckett from Quantum Leap. But however much I wish I could, I cannot travel back in time to put right what once went wrong. I can use this time, this moment, and I can give empty lectures. So far, there’s no law against that.

 

The next day, Emily’s boyfriend answers the phone as if he’s in a hurry. “Student Center, may I help you?”

“Yes, may I speak to Joshua Williams?”

“This is Josh.”

I introduce myself, tell him it’s about Emily.

“Um, can I call you back in about two minutes? I’d prefer to take this outside.” When my phone rings, the recorder is on and Josh sounds confused.

“Am I catching you at a bad time, Josh?”

“No sir. It’s just that I am surprised to hear from you. I mean, I wasn’t part of what happened.”

I lean into my desk, tracing my pen in circles as he talks. “According to Emily, she came banging on your door for help.”

“Yes sir, but—”

“She also told me that you’re her boyfriend.”

“Well, we hang out, but I don’t—” He pauses. “I’m surprised because I wasn’t there that night. In her room, I mean.”

“Yes, I understand that, but afterwards. After the incident, she came banging on your door.”

“No sir. That was before.”

“Before what?” I ask.

“Before she was raped. Sir.”

This is not what I want to hear.

“So she came knocking on your door before she was raped, saying she was raped?”

“She was drunk. Flirting, kinda…asking me to help her before something bad happened. Then that guy Spence came up and helped her back to her room. They were all drinking a lot, sir.”

“But you were there when we arrived.”

“Only because Melissa came and got me. She told me what had happened and that Emily needed my help.”

“Emily asked for you?”

“Well, I don’t know. She had fallen back asleep by the time I got there.”

And where was this information before I sat down with Emily? Did it come over the phone while I was sitting at home, too stuck in my sleep to hear it? Is this something I missed, or something that was left out?

 

“May I speak to Melissa, please?”

“Speaking.”

I stare at the numbers on the phone with my finger poised over the mute button. I lower my voice to its police tenor, the one with authority. “Hi, Melissa. My name is Detective Voyles. I work for the Sheriff’s Office, and I need to talk to you about Emily Evans.” There is a silent recognition streaming through the phone. I peek over at my computer screen at Melissa’s most recent driver’s license photo. The voice doesn’t sound right for the face. Too high. A bit whiny for the long, thick hair.

“Oh. Okay. Sure,” she says, her voice softer now. More grave.

“Is this a bad time? Because if you want to come in—”

“No. This is fine. Um…” Her hair scratches the receiver. “Yes. Hold on a second,” she says. There is shuffling in the background, and Melissa speaks to someone in a muffled tone. Over my cubicle, two other detectives laugh. I press the mute button and stand up.

“I’m taking a statement, guys.” The look on my face tells them to quiet down. As I sit down, I hear my words come whining back from one of them, mocking me. This is nothing new.

“Detective? Are you there?”

I unmute the phone. “Yes. Sorry. Is this a bad time?”

“No, no. I’m at work, but this is better.”

“That’s what I was thinking. I’m sorry I didn’t get to talk to you the night this happened. I was with Emily.”

“I figured—”

“And—well, I was able to read over a copy of your written statement that night, and I have some questions.”

“Did I forget to put something down?”

“No, Melissa. I just find it easier to write what happened when I hear it from the witnesses themselves. From the horse’s mouth, so to speak.” I look at her long face in the photo and smile.

“Sure, I guess. Well, like I wrote in my statement, Emily—”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Melissa. Before you start, do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but?”

“Sure. Yes. I mean, I do.”

“Perfect. You were saying?” I press the mute button so she can’t hear the commotion on the other side of the cubicle.

“Well, like I wrote in my statement, I walked into Emily’s room and saw she was passed out. And then I see Spence on top of her, raping her.”

Unmute. “Do you two share a room?” Mute.

“No. She moved back to South Carolina with her parents. When they showed up—” She pauses for a second. “Well, they kind of insisted.”

The joking from the other side subsides and I press the mute button again. I can hear my own breath back on the line. “No. I mean when this happened. Were you sharing a room with Emily?”

“No. Sir.”

“Then why did you go into her room?”

“To make sure she was okay. She was really drunk—”

“Was she screaming for help?” I pick up my pen again, trace and retrace circles.

“No, but I heard moaning. And Spence was supposed to be sleeping it off, and this was the first time she ever had anything to drink and I was kind of watching over her.”

“So you’ve said. But I’m curious—” I stab my pen in the beer stein mug I use for a pencil holder and flip through the file to find her statement. “Excuse me. I can’t seem to get your statement in front of me. It must have slipped out of the file or something. Didn’t you say something about Emily and Spencer kissing earlier?”

“On the couch, yes, but—”

“And you heard moaning coming from her room?” The statement is stuck to a stapled medical sheet. I pull it out to read as I talk.

“Yes, but—”

“Let me finish, Melissa, okay?”

“Yes sir.”

“Okay, I’ve got it now. It says that you see the two of them kissing on the couch. Later, you hear moaning coming from her bedroom. And because you think it’s a mistake, you decide to interrupt them?”

“Well—”

“You know he’s in jail now, right? I arrested him.”

“She was passed out.”

“You said you heard moaning, right?”

“Yes.”

“People who are passed out do not moan, Melissa.” I wait for a response and get none.

“I’ve also talked to Josh about this. It says here in your statement that they were dating?”

“Yes, that’s what she told me.”

“Would it surprise you to hear that Josh disagrees with that?”

White noise from the phone.

“He also told me that Emily told you that Spencer was fingering her earlier. Is that right, Melissa?”

“Yes.” The answer is almost a whisper now.

“Okay. So, you saw them making out?”

“Yes.”

“And she told you he was fingering her. Was this before or after you walked in on them in her room?”

“Before.”

“Was she unconscious when she told you this?”

“No.”

“And did she say she didn’t want this to happen?”

“No, but—”

“Kind of sounds like she was hooking up with Spencer, wouldn’t you say?”

“She was really drunk.”

“So, after you kicked Spencer out and went to her, did she say she had been raped?”

“No.”

“Did she ask you to go get Josh?”

“No. I thought—”

“Did you ever think that maybe she might be embarrassed?”

Melissa doesn’t answer.

“Put yourself in her shoes. You’re in the middle of a drunken hookup, and your roommate barges in, kicks the guy out, and calls another guy you’ve been dating off and on to come to the rescue.”

Melissa breathes into the other end of the phone.

“Kinda embarrassing, huh?”

“Yes,” she says, almost inaudibly.

“Spencer is in jail awaiting trial for sexual battery, Melissa. Rape,” I say, punching through the phone. Melissa doesn’t answer. “Does that seem fair to you, Melissa?”

“Well, not when you say it like that.”

 

A year after Spencer had his day in court, I receive a plain white envelope in my inbox. The return address has his name printed in block letters at the top. He must have gotten my name from the original charging affidavit. I doubt he would have remembered it from our interview introductions.

I slip the letter into my laptop bag and carry it to my new desk in Homicide. I try not to think about Sex Crimes anymore. When I pull the envelope out of my bag, the return address catches my eye. Scribbled under Spencer’s name, in what looks like an afterthought, is his prison inmate number.

I only saw Spencer once after his arrest, months later and in passing at the courthouse. I was there on another case. Surprisingly, I was never called to testify at his trial. When I called the state attorney, Scott, after the verdict, he told me that he’d wanted sworn testimony without any of my conflicted emotions. Nick never heard the full story, so he was the obvious choice.

“Your report told me how you felt, Detective,” he said on the phone.

“I didn’t write anything that wasn’t true.”

“But I know how you felt. You can’t hide that from a jury.”

“Five years, Scott,” I said. “Over a he said, she doesn’t remember?”

“She was a credible victim.”

“She told me she was a virgin and she wasn’t even sure—”

“And that’s why I didn’t call you to the stand,” he said. “If it makes you feel better,” he added before hanging up, “it wasn’t you who put him there, Detective. He had an attorney.”

Sure. He had the right to an attorney, and handcuffs were my answer to exercising that right. Emily’s statement gave me probable cause to arrest him. It was weak, but not so weak that my boss wouldn’t want answers if I let Spencer go on a hunch. If only he’d told me his side of the story. I could have used discretion. I could have explained Spencer’s logic to my boss, presented the reasonable doubt. I could have taken my time preparing the case, waiting days or weeks before forwarding it to the state attorney for prosecution. Any defense attorney worth his retainer would have the case thrown out on a technicality.

“Your Honor, the fact that my client was placed in handcuffs at his apartment, transported in the back of a squad car by uniformed patrol to an interrogation room across town, and read his Miranda Rights clearly shows that he was under arrest. I would argue that speedy trial began at that moment, regardless of his subsequent release.”

It wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened. Wouldn’t be the last, either. Chalk it up to detective error. I could have done that. But he had to go and ask for an attorney. The way I saw it, he might as well have stamped the word guilty on his forehead.

Legally speaking, when it comes to an allegation of a sex crime, all I need is the sworn testimony of one person to put a man in jail. Even newspapers need more than that to run a story.

And she wasn’t even sure. I figured he’d spend a night in jail and never hook up drunk again. I thought I was teaching him a lesson and still giving him a second chance; two birds, one stone.

But that’s just me rationalizing. I didn’t have to arrest him. Nothing is ever black and white. Haven’t I spent the majority of my detective life arguing the gray to one supervisor or another? I’m always preaching the spirit of the law and not the letter. So what happened this time? Is not arguing with a supervisor really worth five years of a man’s life?

It wasn’t you who put him there, Detective. He had an attorney.

With the tip of my letter opener, I let the razor cut a slit across the top of Spencer’s envelope. On small, tablet-sized notepad paper, he asks for a transcript of Melissa’s interview for his appeal. I staple my business card to the top of a signed copy and have it in the mail before lunch. I hope, for his sake, he’s got a new attorney.

__________________________________________

This nonfiction story was first published in True Crime: Real life stories of abduction, addiction, obsession, murder, grave-robbing, and more, edited by Lee Gutkind with InFact books in 2013. You can purchase it here if you want to read more.

Update: I retired from my detective position shortly after this story was published and moved out of state so my wife could be closer to her parents. I still work in law enforcement, but my detective days are behind me. In 2015, “Spencer” found me on Facebook and reached out to me regarding his new lawyer and his appeal. After serving four of his five years, “Spencer” got out on good behavior, but due to sex offender laws, he was stuck in Florida away from family and support systems back in his home state. He was also still embroiled in an appeal on the grounds that his lawyer hadn’t called me to the stand after reading my plain-spoken police report. When he found out about the book, it was entered as evidence during his appeal.

I’d like to say that truth and justice worked hand in hand to acquit “Spencer” from any wrong-doing. I’d like to say that the state attorney felt some remorse about the slanted version of events provided in his first case, and that they welcomed the opportunity to right what once went wrong. Mostly, I’d like to say that they didn’t treat me like a traitor, or try to discredit me when I took the stand in his defense this time. I’d like to say those things.

What I can say is that “Spencer” did spend four years in a state prison learning his lesson about trusting lawyers over the police. I can say that his new lawyer—and possibly my overdue court testimony—convinced a judge that mistakes were made, and the conviction was overturned on appeal stating ineffective counsel. I wish I could say he was back in his home state with his family, but a check to the sex offender registry in Florida shows him still living there, waiting on the state attorney to decide if they want to retry his case.  If that happens, he could be re-convicted. Only time will tell. Whatever the case, at least he’ll have a better lawyer this time.

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Tourist Visa

What better way to celebrate my birthday then by posting a new story…sort of. The following is kind of an introduction to an introduction. I have been working a book for awhile and am trying to edit a beginning. This is my first attempt at that. For those readers easily offended by foul language, be advised, due to the graphic nature of law enforcement, people curse. They curse me, the situation, and each other. You get the point. To edit that language out would make the work sound less than…well, it sounded fake, forced, and plenty of other F-words. Just keep that in mind when you are reading. At any rate, enjoy.


Tourist Visa

The first time we worked together on an off-duty job, Healy called me a tourist. We were five hours into an eight hour shift, locked in the Convention Center guarding sports memorabilia, and he said it as a matter of fact. As is the case with most guard duty details, all of the magazines had been read, and the DVDs watched. Once we got passed which super hero would win in a fight, someone always asked the bigger questions, chief among them, what made you start doing this?

Healy pulled at the top of his bullet proof vest, adjusted his shoulders, and blew at the heat of Kevlar against his skin. “I’m not like you,” he said. “I’m a cop, because I am a cop. Chasing bad guys, finding drugs, all that shit. I live for it. But you’re not like that.”

I wanted to object. I found parts of it fun. Talking to people. Hearing their stories. Trying to fix things for them. But I knew he was right. Traffic stops, burglary reports, and humping calls for service; it just wasn’t a calling for me. It was a job.

“You know what your problem is?” Healy said as he reached into his bag and pulled out a cold Big Mac. “You’re too smart for this job.”

“Hold on,” I said. “You’re no-” But he cut me off with a wave.

“Give a monkey a gun,” he paused and dusted sesame seeds off his shirt. “And I’m talking one of those monkeys from NASA who understands sign language and shit and you’ve got yourself a cop.” Healy smiled, wiped the beads of sweat from his head and tugged again at the Kevlar vest. “Or maybe a gorilla. That’s me. Deputy Coco.”

I shook my head at him and laughed.

“You know I’m right too,” he said with a mouth full of food. “You’re just sightseeing until something better comes along. I’ve seen your reports. I write the facts. You tell stories. You won’t retire from this. Take it from Deputy Coco. He knows a thing or two about a thing or two.”

What Deputy Coco didn’t know was the backstory that got me here. Three years prior, I graduated college with a Creative Writing Degree with every intention of writing a book and teaching for the rest of my life. But somewhere between stepping off the stage with my diploma and going to my service industry job that night, I got lost. Suddenly, I found myself in bars after waiting tables in downtown Orlando. Talking to women who weren’t my wife. Spending time with people who were not my daughter. Drinking all sense of reason away. I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize. Even one of my friend’s had made the comment to me, “Somewhere in the timeline of your life, you’ve been fired for sleeping with a student.” But I ignored his warning. I refused to see that the pedestal I had carefully built for myself was crumbling. Until the inevitable happened. One semester after starting a new phase in my life, I went home to the wrong house.

A year later, I was divorced, only seeing my daughter every other weekend. I was a part time dad. Something I would never have imagined for myself. I needed to start bringing home a real paycheck, and not one dripping with maybes that you get waiting tables. I needed to pay my child support. I needed to make things right. I wanted to write, but I wanted my daughter more. I needed to get back to the man I was when I was in the military; honorable. So it was that I checked into law enforcement, to do something good while looking for a story to write.

I realized in talking to Healy, that I needed to find something I could dedicate myself to, some sort of crime fighting I could get behind. Stopping guys on the street looking for drug paraphernalia wasn’t cutting it. So I started watching the call screen looking for something major. That’s when I started asking for the sex cases.

I spent the better part of a year going from call to call, looking for something to prosecute, and following detectives to the Sexual Assault Treatment Center to see how they did it. All the while, taking diligent notes, writing quotes, and documenting everything I could use later for a possible story, poem, or script. Each call had a life of its own. Every detail was significant and loaded with nuance; two parties, two stories, but only one truth. It was like reading a script or going to the movies.


FADE IN:

INT. KITCHEN – DAY

Modestly decorated home. A strip of wallpaper with farmyard animals, vegetables, and fruit accent DIY sponge paint on the walls. MOTHER, 28, slightly plump, but fighting it, sits at the kitchen table with a newborn baby quietly taking a bottle.

DEPUTY, early 30’s, fit but balding, sits across from her, diligently taking notes in a small, pocket-sized, pad of paper.

MOTHER

So Megan and I were taking a shower, and I’m asking her how her day was; did she make any new friends? Did she have any homework? Did anyone try to touch her today?

Deputy stops writing mid stroke and looks up. He pulls a tissue from a decorated rooster box on the table and hands it to mother as her eyes well up.

DEPUTY

Has she been having a problem with that recently? Being touched, I mean.

MOTHER

Oh no. Never. But I make it a habit to ask.

Mother covers her newborn’s ears with a burping cloth, and leans in to Deputy.

MOTHER

(continued)

You know how people are nowadays, right?

DEPUTY

Of course.  (Beat) Please, continue.

CUT TO:

INT. MEGAN’S ROOM – DAY

Pink princesses adorn every corner of the lavishly decorated room. MEGAN sits quietly at the foot of the bed, listening intently to Deputy , who squats a few feet in front of her.

DEPUTY

Do you know why I am here, Megan?

Megan nods her head solemnly.

DEPUTY

Can you tell me a little about it?

Megan looks at the ground and squirms. Deputy struggles in the kneeling position for a moment and then takes a seat on the ground.

DEPUTY

Do you mind if I sit, Megan? I am getting really old.

Megan laughs a little as Deputy makes himself comfortable.

DEPUTY

You know what, Megan? I have a daughter just about your age. Seven, right?

MEGAN

Eight.

Deputy rolls his head back in enthusiastic apology, doing his best impression of Tom Hanks in every comedy he’s ever made.

DEPUTY

Eight?! Well! Geez! Your practically driving then, huh?

Megan gives him a look of incredulity, and a smile brightens her face. She’s warming up to him.

MEGAN

No. But I can ride a bike. No training wheels either.

DEPUTY

I bet you can. Big as you are. You know what else I bet you can do?

MEGAN

What?

DEPUTY

I bet you can tell me about what happened at school today.

Megan looks back down at the ground, but then, in almost a whisper…

MEGAN

My mom says Coach T is bad.

DEPUTY

She does? Why does she say that?

MEGAN

Because he touched me on my private.

DEPUTY

Can you point to your private?

Megan sits still for a few seconds, but Deputy doesn’t move. Then Megan moves her hand and covers her chest.

DEPUTY

Any place else?

Megan shakes her head from side to side.

DEPUTY

And where were you when this happened? In his office, the classroom, or somewhere else?

Megan continues to shake her head and then crosses her legs on the bed getting comfortable.

MEGAN

We were in the gym.

DEPUTY

Who we?

MEGAN

Everyone. The whole class.

DEPUTY

What were you doing?

MEGAN

We were getting ready to play dodgeball and we were lining up, and he touched me on my private.

DEPUTY

Why do you think he did that?

MEGAN

I don’t know.

DEPUTY

Did he say anything to you when he did this?

Megan nods, her eyes bright and open as she speaks.

MEGAN

He said, “Back up.”

DEPUTY

Oh. So you were in line?

MEGAN

The front of the line.

DEPUTY

And he wanted you to back up.

MEGAN

Yes. We are supposed to line up behind the line.

Deputy smiles at Megan as he gets to his feet. He picks up a stuffed bear from her bed and smoothes the fur back on its head.

DEPUTY

How did it make you feel when he did that?

MEGAN

I don’t know.

DEPUTY

Well, do you think it was a bad touch, a good touch, or something else?

MEGAN

I don’t know.

DEPUTY

Did he move his hand around, keep it still, or something else?

MEGAN

He kept it still.

DEPUTY

He just wanted you to move, huh?

MEGAN

I think so.

DEPUTY

And did you tell your mom this? The part about the line and the dodgeball?

MEGAN

No.

DEPUTY

Why not?

MEGAN

She didn’t ask.

DEPUTY

She didn’t ask.

FADE OUT


The front seat of my patrol car had become a slush pile of human tragedy. Movie quality quotes coming from the victims and witnesses as well as the truth of everyday law enforcement. I wasn’t a writer. I was a cop. And it got me thinking; was this where I was supposed to be all along?

I started writing stories while working midnights in a top secret SCIF in England in the early nineties. I did it to entertain myself and flirt with the woman I was trying to date. In between satellite realignments, I typed suspenseful noir type settings with damsels in distress and nefarious characters in dark shadows. It was easy to envision with foreign voices speaking coded transmissions in my ears.

At the end of my shift, I would return to my barracks, and watch recorded episodes of NYPD Blue that I had sent to me from friends and family in the states. I fell asleep each morning with police stories and the gravel voice of Dennis Franz in my head. Having grown up in a policeman’s house, nothing was better than being a rehabilitated Andy Sipoweitz of the 15th precinct. I didn’t want to be a detective, only write stories about them. Now, ten years later, I wasn’t watching television anymore. I was doing the job. The television of my past was now the reality of my present, and three hours of he said, she said, with paramedics to patch up the injured parties, boiled down to five lines in a report.


On December 27, 2005, at approximately 0056 hours, I responded to the listed address in reference to an alleged domestic dispute. According to witnesses, a fight broke out between non-related persons, the results of which required medical attention in the form of lacerations to the head of one of the combatants. Neither party wished to press charges and nonresidents were asked to leave the premises. It should be noted that a check of all participants in FCIC resulted in the confirmation of a DWLS Warrant for the lead combatant. He was transported to central booking without further incident.


But the calls stuck with me. The five lines, while adequate for reports at the end of my shift, the whole story lingered in my head for days afterwards. So, on my days off, I started writing again. Then I had lunch with one of my old professors who was now a close friend. She listened to a few of my stories, and by the time my lunch was over, I had promised to send in a submission to start my MFA in the new year. I even got a letter of recommendation from my supervisor who told the committee that I didn’t write reports, but narratives with style. And what better stories to write for a submission than one hidden between the five lines of one of my reports.


Sergeant Santiago stands in the living room of the double wide trailer getting one side of the fight that brought us here. I straddle the hallway in front of a bedroom with my back to the wall, keeping one eye on the door, and the other on Buddy, the other half of the disagreement. Buddy sits on the bottom bunk of his son’s bed, leaning against the stepladder with his head in his hands. His eleven-year-old son sits next to him crying for me to please help his dad. Buddy’s face is leaking. Blood clots in his nose. Just above his left eye, a gash about two inches long with semi-dried blood tracing a twisted path from the corner of his mouth to his chin.

“What happened?” I ask.

Buddy shakes his head.

I look at the kid. “Listen, bud.”

“It’s Buddy. My dad’s name is Buddy.”

“Okay,” I say. “Let’s get you out of here so I can talk to your dad. See what happened.”

Kid shakes his head. Like father like son. “Can’t you help him?”

The room smells like kid sweat. Dead socks and underwear litter the floor. Overturned toy cars wrapped up in bright, dirty blankets. Home sweet home on the brink of sour. I ask again, “What happened?”

More head shaking.

“You got to talk to me Buddy. For crying out loud. Your head’s split open in three places that I can see. Who gave you the blood wig?”

Still nothing.

Breaking through Buddy’s silence is the dispatcher coming through the radio mic. “Units on Sunderson, unit check.”

In a move resembling throwing salt over my shoulder at dinner, I cock my head to the left and squeeze a button on my shoulder mic. “Ten four, County.” Back to Buddy. “Tell me something. Tell me you fell. Tell me the floor split your head open. C’mon Buddy, tell me that the floor also did a number on your pal in the other room. He was just breaking your fall. I’m cool with that. You don’t want me here. I don’t want to be here. Tell me that, and I’ll leave.”

Nothing. Dried blood and dirt cakes in Buddy’s fingernails. His shirt, ripped at the neck, hangs off his shoulder. I don’t get it. Why call? Why waste everyone’s time? I shake my head in unison with Buddy. Just another episode of Jerry Fricken’ Springer.

“Fine,” I say. “You know what. I’ll take the other guy’s word for it. Whatever he says, goes. The other guy with the bloody knuckles. Why should I care? You don’t. Maybe he’ll say you hit yourself. Maybe I can Baker Act you since you’re obviously a danger to yourself.” I turn around to leave the room, calling Dispatch at the same time. “County, if you have Fire Rescue staging, go ahead and send them in reference to numerous lacerations to the head.”

“Ten-four.”

As I walk into the living room, Pal sits in the brown corduroy Lazy-boy facing away from the front door.

“She’s a dirty, fucking whore, and now everyone knows it,” Pal says to his sister sitting on the couch next to him in the living room. She has a baby in her arms and she continues to rock it back and forth. Her face and eyes red from crying. Pal’s jeans are covered in what appears to be a mixture of mud, charcoal, and blood. “And everybody thought she was so sweet,” he says, drawing out the O in so. “You’re nothing but a dirty whore,” he screams to the back wall of the trailer.

“So tell me. Buddy in there says he fell. That about right?”

“Yeah.” He motions to Buddy in the kid‘s room. “The father of my sister’s two-week-old baby boy. The fucking guy I told her to steer clear of and told everybody he’s no fucking good. I saw them.” He shakes his head. “I mean, I told her I loved her.” Pal clears his throat, shaking the tremble out of his voice. “At first, I couldn’t believe it. But there he was, out by the fucking fire with her and I just flipped. You’d done the same fucking thing, it’d been you.”

“Yep. Imagine I would,” Sergeant Santiago says.

“Fucking A, you would.”

“Of course, I picked a good woman.” He smiles at me when he says this.

Pal lowers his head. “Thought I did too.” He lifts his head again. “Fucking Whore!” A stream of spit flies off his lips. The word whore stretches through the living room, out the back door, and taps Pal’s girlfriend on the shoulder as she stands outside by the fire.

It would seem that Pal never met a cuss word he didn’t like. In his agitated state relaying the evening’s events to us, each sentence is punctuated by a four-letter word. In the first few seconds inside the house, I noticed at least five children under the age of eight running around. And that’s not including Buddy’s son, who still sits in the other room waiting for paramedics to arrive and bandage his dad’s broken face, and then there is the two-week-old baby on the couch.

“Hey, Pal. You mind if we take this outside and talk about it? Or maybe get the kids out of here so they don’t have to hear all the sordid details? If you know what I mean?”

“Ain’t nothing they haven’t heard before.”

Clearly. That’s the problem. I look at my watch. Well after one a.m. and kids are still up running around with all the adults half drunk or passed out. Rerun of Law and Order muted on the big screen TV near the front door to the mobile home. No one in the room senses the irony. “Just the same,” I say, “They don’t need to hear more, do they?”

“Fine. Fine. After all, the children are our fucking future, right?” Pal says.

More like job security, I think, saying nothing. Instead, I put on my best poker face and wait for Pal to fold.

Pal sits back in his recliner. “What the fuck ever, man.” He motions to his sister sitting on a dirty, brown couch against the wall. “Hey, why don’t you take the kids out to the truck. Let them play with the satellite radio or something.” Then he looks at me. “I don’t want them to see me get arrested for Christ’s sake. After all, that is what’s gonna fuckin’ happen, right, boss?”

“I’m not saying that,” I say. “I just need to find out what happened, so we can figure this whole mess out.”

Pal’s sister rounds up the kids, five on the floor and one in her arms and takes them outside. Pal watches her leave with the kids and then turns his attention back to me. “She ain’t got a brain in her head staying with that fucking guy. They begged me to forgive him for Christmas. And I’m an idiot because I did. It’s why I’m here tonight. And I should’ve never done it. Only reason you’re here, cause of that son of a bitch. Oh yeah, and that whore out back by the fire.” He screams to the back yard again. “Jump in it, whore!”

While I wrestle the rest of the story out of Pal, Fire Rescue paramedics pour into the mobile home to work on Buddy’s face. He refuses treatment. Big surprise. His son pleads with him to no avail. Then his girlfriend comes in carrying his newborn son. She wears a white spaghetti-strapped blouse, dirty lace at the bust line, stretched tight against her postpartum belly. Her hair is a dusty blonde stain, streaked with brown lowlights. She is the picture of soil, smiling uneasily as she bends over his head. Then she whispers in his ear, kisses his blood-dried forehead, and leaves the room. Buddy says his first words of the night. “Okay. Go ahead with it.”

Firefighter #3 taps me on the back and tells me to come back into the room with Buddy and the paramedics.

“You ready to tell me what happened?”

A paramedic holds Buddy’s hand still and slowly wraps it with a sterile gauze bandage. Buddy tilts his head towards the living room. “What did he say?”

I run my hands over my shaved head. “Well, basically, he said you all had been drinking, he and his sister passed out in the living room, and when he got up to pee, he went outside and saw you kneeling out by the campfire with your face buried in his girlfriend’s lap, her pants around her ankles. He flipped, and beat you bloody. End of story. That about right?”

Buddy looks at the floor. “You believe him?”

“We got the same story from the girl, too.” I say, looking at Buddy’s kid sitting on the floor next to him. “What I don’t get is why he went outside to take a leak. Don’t you guys have toilets in here?”

Buddy looks up from his seated position, his expression turns from guilt to injured pride. “You gonna judge me now, too? How the fuck should I know why? You think I planned this? Look at my face. You think I fucking wanted this?”

I look around the room searching for an answer. Crayon markings on the wall. An empty, half-crushed soda can lodged between the twin mattress and the wooden headboard. “No. I can’t say as you did. You want to press charges?”

“What do you think? He’s my baby’s uncle.”

“Well, that didn’t stop you from—” But I stop myself mid sentence. What is the point? He doesn’t want to hear it. Why aggravate the situation? “You know what? Never mind. Doesn’t matter. He’s got a warrant out for driving on a suspended license. He’s coming with us either way.”


A year into my MFA, I transferred to Sex Crimes. Up to this point, I was writing fictional stories based loosely on my calls for service, but with this new world, came a more in-depth, demanding style of writing that was surprising. I went from writing five line reports to five pages, then fifteen, then thirty. Everything up to that point had just been the initial investigation. Now I was interviewing everyone involved, getting the stories straight, and then turning those stories into sworn affidavits of tragedy and shame. I was writing people into jail. Everything I wrote was true–things I had seen, heard, and been told my all parties involved–but crafted to convince the jury of guilt or innocence. The pen was finally mightier.

In my personal writings, I still hadn’t been published. Of course, I wasn’t very proactive about it either. I was too busy with real life. I was making a decent wage, not to mention all the overtime I was working. But as for actual writing for pleasure, that wasn’t happening. I told myself that I was gathering information; writing in my head, something I would get to in the future. I even slowed the pace of classes I was taking because I was so busy. I had become a detective. The writer in me would have to wait.

Then I went to a reading at the college and got cornered by the nonfiction chair of the department. She wanted to know how things were going. Had I picked a genre yet? She reminded me that if I missed a semester, I would lose what I had put into the program thus far. She got me back on track. She also got me thinking about nonfiction.

It came back to the job with me. The stories I began to tell left the pages and started coming out in my interviews with suspects and victims alike. I workshopped their lives. Edited their confessions. Tore them down bit by bit. Told them what wasn’t working and why. Taking both the fiction and non-fiction of their tales and putting together a separate truth of the situation. I had been questioning the idea of fiction and nonfiction in my workshops and here I had a real representation of it. People told me their stories every day and swore they were telling the truth, but the reality was that people lied. Victims said one thing, the witnesses another, and when it came to the suspects, I got them to tell me the easiest truth to make them confess. That was when it hit me. I wasn’t a fiction writer anymore. My whole life revolved around getting people to tell me the truth, and that realization stopped me sixty pages into the young adult fiction I was concentrating on in my schoolwork. This was what I had been looking for all along. This is what I wanted to write. The truth. In whatever form it took.


After

Kitchen tables,

rumpled Kleenex,

heavy questions loom.

Girlfriends murmur,

softly cutting,

from the other room.

 

The boy was purple

paisley buttons,

titanium leather band.

A fragrant fellow.

Nervous laughter.

Did things get out of hand?

 

Drinks were steady.

Dinner raw.

The fish.

The rice.

The soy.

He complimented.

Understood you.

This lovely, lovely boy.

 

You let him in.

You silly girl.

Your sisters call you ho.

They never ask.

They just accuse.

Did you tell him no?

 

Detective now

is softly speaking.

Do not veer off course.

Just another one

intruding.

All they know

is force.


After was the first thing I ever got published. A poem. Of all things. Rattle Magazine put a call for submissions out for a tribute to law enforcement and one of my friends from class sent me a note on Facebook about it. I had yet to start submitting anything to anyone at the time. But this was for cops, right? So, I sat down and looked through some of the things I had been tinkering with and found a piece of flash nonfiction, and played with it for about a week. I finally worked it into what I thought a poem was supposed to look like, along with a few older poems I wrote in a poetry class, and then forgot about. I felt good about putting something out there. Even if I only got a rejection letter in return. I was a writer wasn’t I? At least that is what I told myself. Nothing lights a fire like acceptance and a few hard copies.

In the months after I got that first letter of acceptance, I got a few more. I keep writing and sending things out. I also keep working at the other jobs, talking to bad guys, putting people in jail. I once sat in a courtroom answering questions about a case, something I do fairly regularly as you would imagine. I’m a regular episode of Law & Order sometimes. On this particular occasion though, the defense attorney was going on about how I had depicted the defendant in my report. He wanted to know about the language I used.

“So tell me Detective,” he said, standing confident at his lectern. “You attended the police academy, did you not?” This kind of questioning is routine. Make the cop look dumb on the stand. After all, aren’t most cops just trained gorillas?

“I did.”

“And how long is the report writing section in the academy?”

“Forty hours, if I remember correctly,” I said.

“Forty hours,” he repeated to the jury. “So that is where you learned to write like that. They train you to use a specific kind of language to put people in jail. Don’t they? In that forty hours?”

“No sir,” I answered.

“They have other classes then?” he asked, incredulously.

“No, the report writing class is forty hours alright, but that’s not why I write like that.”

“Well then, what other training do you have? An advance report writing class? A forty hour refresher?”

“No. I never took that,” I said, watching the smile broaden on his face. “But I also have a Master’s Degree in English, with a concentration in Nonfiction Writing. So, I only write the truth. As for the words I use; that’s just the way I talk.”

That’s when his smile disappeared. He stared at me then, not saying anything. I guess I’m not the gorilla he was expecting.

On Call: A Day in the Life, part II

If you missed Part I, go here for parts I and II.

Part II – Breakfast

6:00 am

Kylie sat at the card table in her kitchen and tore thin strips from a Wendy’s napkin. A few feet away, a CSI dusted the blinds and frame of the sliding glass door. Across the complex, the K9 and his  handler moved along dewy grass and dim lit sidewalks looking for someone to bite.

Christina sat next to Kylie and listened to her account of the shadow in the doorway. No, no one locked the sliding door the night before. No, she didn’t recognize the man who spoke to her. No, she wouldn’t be able to identify him later if she saw him. It was dark. She was asleep, just like every one else in her apartment, and the only one who could shed any on the incident lived in a pineapple under the sea.

“I know it was dark, but was there anything about his clothes that stood out to you, or maybe the way he sounded? Even the small things are important.”

Kylie organized the mountain of napkin in front of her. “I think he was wearing a hat.”

“You think or you know?” Christina asked, making sure not to sound angry.

“I just remember white writing on a black cap, but I thought I was dreaming,” Kylie said, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m really not sure.”

“That’s good, Kylie,” Christina said. “I’m sure your weren’t.”

The radio chirped out some coded speech and I tapped Christina on the shoulder.

“Looks like the K9 hit on something,” I said quietly. “Let’s wrap things up.”

6:25am

When we walked up to the building, about six uniformed deputies milled about the parking spots in front of the corner apartment. The K9 handler rubbed his partners furry head and pulled a yellow tennis ball out from his cargo pocket.

“Who’s a good dog?” he said and bounced the ball high for his dog to snatch out of the air in mid flight. A female deputy stood next to him and tucked her flashlight into the plastic ring on her gun-belt. When she saw the shirts and ties, she jerked her head in the direction of the apartment, and handed me a piece of note pad with two names on it.

“Andre Johnson and Jeffry Daniels,” she said. “Jeffry lives here with his baby mama, and Andre is just visiting.”

“Where are they?” I asked, handing the note to Christina.

“Both are inside,” she said, “and baby mama is none too pleased.”

“Right,” I said, “thanks.” When I walked into their living room, Andre sat on the couch with his head in his hands. One of the female deputies handed me his ID and pointed to the suitcase near the couch and a male deputy in mid search.

“He says he doesn’t live here,” she whispered. Her back was to Andre, and she kept her voice tight, omniscient. “Got kicked out of his brother’s place only last night.”

“Did he give you guys permission to go through his things?”

She looked at me with a smile, her hair pulled back in a tight bun. “Sure. Said he had nothing to hide.”

I wondered how that conversation went down. Dogs barking at the door, a gaggle of cops banging, telling him to open up. That sounds consensual enough. I smiled back and looked at Christina. She nodded at her notepad and the red light of her digital recorder. I read the name on the ID and stepped up to the plate.

“Andre, I’m with the Sheriff’s Office and I need you to know that you don’t have to talk to me,” I said. My voice sounded big, playful almost. I’ve found that dumb ox plays better than smooth talk.

“You want to tell me what’s going on here?” Andre said, keeping his eye on the deputy rifling through his duffle bag. “I don’t even live here.”

“Well, you match the description of a guy we are looking for, and the dog tracked to your place.”

“Yeah,” he said, looking back and forth between me and his increasingly empty duffle. “Well, like I said, this isn’t my place.”

“Sure, but you understand, you’re staying here and this thing just happened.” The deputy was pulling clothes out of the duffle like he was looking for a clean set of pants to wear. He tossed them on the floor and I noticed a black hat, rounded brim, with white lettering on the front. “Have you been outside tonight?” I asked, my eyes steady on his face.

“Just to the Circle K, to get a sub and some chips.”

“What time?” I asked, then changed tack. “Better yet. You have a receipt? You see. We know exactly when this whole thing kicked off, so the sooner I can place you somewheres else, the faster we’ll be outta your hair.”

Andre stayed seated on the couch and held a hand up to the deputy going through his things. “Can I go to the kitchen?”

“Andre, like I said, this is your world. I’m just standing in it.”

Andre stood up from the couch and moved to the plastic bag hanging on the back of the front door. He dug around and came up with a slip of white paper drenched in mayonnaise. “I think this is it,” he said and laid it out on the kitchen counter.

7:00 am

The lobby of the Circle K smelled of disinfectant and bleach. A group of construction workers milled near the coolers, grabbing subs and chips, preparing for the day outside. I walked to the soda fountain to fill my cup with crunchy ice and sent Christina to chat up the clerk for evidence.

“You guys have video here?” she asked.  Out of uniform, Christina’s look doesn’t exactly scream police. Without the bullet proof vest and utility belt full of gear to guide her, the clerk looked warily at this minivan mom cutting in line to ask her questions. Christina smiled and tapped the badge hanging from her neck and the look on the clerk’s face flashed with instant recognition.

“Rita!” the clerk called behind her as she counted change back to a customer. “Cops need to speak to you.” Christina looked over at me and winked, something she had started doing more and more as she got her detective legs. She and I, two cops in the know, always smiling.

Before coming to sex crimes, Christina spent years on the road training newbies. The wink was her way of easing them into the job; a “watch this” attitude of good humor and insight. Who was training who here? I wondered if she knew she was doing it to me. I finished filling my cup with water and went to stand by her side.

Rita opened the door of the office and stuck her head out. She had a stack of cash in one hand and a ream of receipts in the other. Her bleached, blond hair pulled tight on her forehead and poked out a frazzled ponytail. She had her mouth pursed in concentration. Had she been outside, a cigarette would have been living there. She looked busy, and not in the mood for detectives. The face of the neighborhood watch, she was not.

“What can I do for you, dear?” she said to me, already exhausted and ignoring Christina. I smiled and was about to speak when Christina cut me off.

“We need to see your video from this morning.” Christina approached the door and held out a her card for Rita to take, but Rita just smiled and held up her hands.

“You’re going to need to hold on a sec. I got to count this up and get it in the safe,” she said. “Then you two can come in and take a look.”

9:00 am

Christina and I stood in the doorway of Sergeant Maddox’s office as he checked his emails and listened to the events of the morning.

“Black cap with white lettering and black collared jacket,” she said with a smile. “Not the blue sweatsuit he said he was wearing.” Then she gave him the blow by blow of the investigation and how Andre had already disappeared by the time we got the video and went back to re-engage him in conversation.

“So what you’re telling me, Detective, is that you let the bad guy get away. Is that right?” Sarge has a way with words. He likes to tie us up with our own explanations and watch us try to wriggle ourselves free.

“What she’s telling you is that she’s going to be writing a warrant for the apartment and after I eat some breakfast, a bunch of us will be heading out to canvas for witnesses.” I said with a smile. I wanted to sleep sometime today and I knew he would be at this awhile if I didn’t step in. Sarge looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. I could hear the sound of his voice in my head. C’mon fella, let me have my fun. But the email called to him and he let it go.

“Fine. Call felony and get them up on the stolen phones,” he said with a sigh, on the edge of uninterested, “and let me know when they start to ping.”

10:47 am

Anita Nunez walked four miles of the Cady Way trail every morning with her husband. They talked about their kids, how she never thought she’d miss the dusty littered dawns of Juarez after leaving Mexico two years ago, and how sometimes, when driving with the windows down, the diesel fumes from passing trucks took her home again. So when the glint of sunlight shone off the pieces of Kylie’s phone up ahead on the trail, Anita thought it was just another spot of trash conjuring up images of home and loss. But once she got closer, she realized her mistake, and started picking up the pieces to see if they fit. By the time she got home, she was smiling ear to ear with the treasure that had landed in her lap. I almost felt bad for her when she opened the door to her apartment and found me standing there with a felony team behind me.

TO BE CONTINUED…