What Lies Ahead
I woke up alone the next morning, which was unusual. We tried not to flaunt it in front of Mom. While she didn’t put up a fight against it, she wasn’t thrilled with Zoe and my nocturnal activities.
Most nights Zoe snuck into my room, or I snuck into hers. Sometimes with Tami or Vicki in too, if one of them was spending the night with us.
But I had gone to be alone after my disastrous date with Emily. I wasn’t sure if I was happy or not that Zoe had gone along with my request for some alone time.
I got back from my morning run to find her at the table eating with Emily, who decided she was done eating the moment I walked into the room.
As Emily left the dining room, with one sidelong glare cast my way, I sat
in a chair across from Zoe with a sigh.
“Just give her some time,” she said. “She just took your explanation badly. She’ll come around. Remember, this is a process. She has a lot to deal with, and we knew this was a trial run. She still has anger issues to deal with.”
“I know. I don’t even completely disagree with her assessment, it’s...”
“No,” Zoe said, interrupting me. “Don’t go there. None of us believe we have been hit with a ‘biological roofie’ as Emily seems to be putting it. Let’s not go down this path again.”
“Ok, but it still is hard not to take a little of this to heart.”
“I know. Just give her time.”
“Ok, I am going to go take a shower. Are you picking up Tami today?”
“Yeah. We never heard from Vicki yesterday, and since she missed school we are going to go by and check on her first. Emily will ride with us, and we’ll see you at school after.”
“Give her my best,” I said as I went up to take a shower.
Before last night’s date, I had been hoping Emily would ride with me to school, today. I found myself falling for her more and more, which just made last night’s events hurt that much more.
I spent most of my morning routine of showering and getting ready absorbed by thoughts of what Emily had said last night.
Despite Zoe’s admonition, I couldn’t help but feel some of her accusations were somewhat accurate. I could berate myself with the best of them, and spent the entire drive to school practicing that dubious skill.
I was just pulling into the school parking lot when my cell phone rang, pulling me out of my thoughts.
“Hello,” I said, recognizing Zoe’s number.
“You need to get over to Vicki’s house, right now.”
“What’s wrong,” I asked, recognizing the panic in her voice.
“Her house is just ... it’s bad. You need to get over here.”
“I’ll head there now,” I said and hung up.
I backed out of the space and left the school parking lot behind, making a beeline for Vicki’s house.
Pulling up to her house, behind Zoe’s car, I could see the door standing wide open. Inside the entryway I found Tami, Zoe and Emily standing, looking shocked.
It wasn’t hard to tell what caused their expressions. The house was trashed. The two rooms we could see from the front entryway were torn apart.
“Did you find anyone?” I asked.
“No, we checked all the rooms. No one is here, and they’re all like this,” Tami said
“How’d you get in?” I asked.
“Front door was open. Not all the way, but a little bit,” Emily said.
There was no trace of anger in her voice. Apparently the shock of a ransacked house was enough to distract her from being pissed at me.
I pulled out my phone, and dialed a number.
“Officer Jawarski, this is Caspian Grey,” I said when she picked up the phone.
“What do you want?” came her curt reply.
“You said you wanted to do something to make up for the other day. Well, I’m calling in the favor.”
“Fine,” she said after a long pause.
“A friend of mine is in trouble. She wasn’t at school yesterday, and wasn’t answering the phone, so we came to check on her. The front door was open, and the house has been torn apart. No one is home. I don’t actually know anything’s wrong, but it seems bad.”
“Wait outside, and don’t touch anything in the house,” she said after getting the address.
“Is she going to come help?” Zoe asked.
“I think so,” I said.
After what seemed like an hour, but was closer to ten minutes, an older model sports car pulled up and Officer Jawarski stepped out.
This was the second time I had seen her out of uniform and it was still an odd experience. She was wearing blue jeans, an orange University of Texas T-shirt and a baseball cap with some logo I didn’t recognize. My mental picture of Jawarski was always her blue uniform and I hadn’t actually ever considered her dressed in anything else.
“Wait here,” she said and slipped into the house.
We waited another few minutes in silence until Jawarski returned to the front door.
“Has your friend said anything about people following her, or about someone her family has a problem with?”
“Not really, no. But her father has been on edge lately, really worried about something. He has kept both her and her mother cooped up in the house, saying it wasn’t safe.”
“But he never told her what specifically he was worried about.”
“Do you know if they have any enemies, maybe somebody from work?”
“Not that I’ve heard of. He’s a CPA, which isn’t really an enemy getting kinda job. Although...” I said, trailing off.
“I’ve always had concerns. Her family is well off. Very well off. I’m pretty sure it’s not inherited, not from how Vicki has talked about her grandparents. Her mom doesn’t work and I don’t think a CPA earns enough to afford them the lifestyle they live.”
“So you think he’s into something crooked?”
“Maybe, but it’s just a guess. I’ve never actually seen anything specific. Should we go to the station? Fill out a report or something?”
She stared at me for several minutes, thinking. She was clearly wrestling with something in her head, but I couldn’t guess what.
“If I was on duty and you asked me that, I would say ‘yes’, and direct you to go to the station,” she said eventually. “But honestly, we didn’t find anything to directly suggest there is something illegal, here, and no one would start looking into this for forty-eight hours. Since we are here, let’s see if we can find anything that might tell us what your friend’s father was worried about.”
“Ok,” I said and turned to the girls. “You guys head on to school.”
“But...” Zoe started to say.
“If we all miss school, today,” I said, interrupting her, “it will be pretty conspicuous. Someone will call Mom, and she will start to worry.”
“Fine,” Zoe said, sounding like it was anything but.
She gave me a kiss, followed by Tami who repeated the gesture. To my surprise, Emily gave me a kiss on the cheek, also. Then they all headed to their car and drove away.
“I will never understand how you ended up with so many girls,” Jawarski said, looking somewhat disapproving.
“Someday I might tell you my secret.”
“Whatever,” she said turning to walk into the house.
She pulled out a pair of latex gloves and handed them to me.
“Put these on. The place is pretty much trashed already, but try not to move anything. If you pick up anything, put it back where you found it.”
“Aren’t you worried about us messing up the crime scene?”
“This isn’t’ a crime scene. If we found a body or something illegal, then I would call it in immediately and you would have to wait outside, but we don’t actually know if something has happened to your friend. Since there is no evidence of any actual crime, we can poke around a bit.
“Huh, and here I thought you were ‘by the book.’”
“Shut up and look around,” she said.
I turned away from her and smiled. That last bit was said without any actual animosity, which was a huge step up from how our previous conversations went. It also occurred to me that, if some random citizen had called this in, she almost certainly would have treated this whole thing by the book.
It seemed pretty clear she was breaking the rules for me. Whether it was because of our conversation the other day or some guilt, I wasn’t sure. I appreciated the gesture none the less. I had a bad feeling about this, and I wasn’t crazy about waiting for the justice system to figure it out.
Jawarski headed into their living room, right off the front entryway, probably because it was the closest room, while I headed towards the back of the house.
Vicki’s fathers’ office was nothing like I remembered it. The one time I had been in his office it struck me how neat and orderly it had been. I remember noticing how everything had a place and every drawer and cabinet was labeled.
The room now looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Papers littered the floor and the knick-knacks that had neatly lined some of the shelves were scattered around, many broken. The drawers to the file cabinets were opened, as were all of the ones in his desk. A wall safe that I don’t remember seeing before had its door wide open. I noticed a nail above it and a picture I did remember laying on the floor below it, meaning he’d probably had it hidden.
Looking inside I found it completely empty. Whatever had been in there was now gone.
I started digging through files, not sure what I was looking for. I knew he was involved in something, and my only hope was that he had been dumb enough to write it down and whoever trashed the office hadn’t removed it.
The more I looked, the clearer it became that my search was pretty futile. Everything that I found was innocuous, and didn’t hint at anything out of the ordinary or illegal.
Still, the longer I searched, the more something was digging at my subconscious. As I skimmed paper after paper I felt like I was missing something obvious.
Standing up, I backed up close to the door, and just focused. It was the same feeling like when you see an actor in a movie, and you know you’ve seen them before, but can’t remember. I had noticed something, but I couldn’t pinpoint what.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jawarski’s said behind me.
I jumped a little. I had been so focused on the room, that I hadn’t heard her walk up.
“There’s ... something here. I just can’t figure out what,” I said, not turning to look at her.
“Was the room like this before you came in, or did you screw up the ‘don’t move stuff or mess up the scene’ part of my instructions?”
“It was like this. There’s a safe in the wall,” I pointed absently at the safe, still not taking my eyes off the room, “that’s been emptied.”
She walked past me and over to the safe.
“Your friend’s father sucked at hiding stuff. This painting has weird dimensions; it just screams ‘look behind me’.”
And just like that, I realized what I’m missing.
“You’re a genius,” I said.
“By comparison ... without a doubt.”
I ignored her jab. She couldn’t help it. The fact that she was still helping me despite her allergy - or whatever - to my genetics, said a lot about her. After hating her for more than a year, it was weird to find each insult made me like her that much more.
“From the outside of the house, the window is several feet from the corner of the building. This is the last room in the house, and is clearly the room at that corner, yet this window is pretty much against that wall, with only about six inches to spare. Aren’t rooms normally made so the window is in the center of the wall? Also, that safe is in the same wall and goes back almost a foot. Something’s off with this room’s dimensions.”
She looked around the room, focusing on the things I pointed out.
“Son of a bitch! You’re right.”
She started feeling against the wall until she got to the corner furthest from the window, about six feet in from the safe. I couldn’t see what she did, but I heard a click and she pushed a small section back into the wall and slid it open, the wall moving along some kind of recessed track.
Inside was a small space, maybe two and a half feet deep, and four feet wide. It had a shelf, stacked with both files and video tapes.
“Son of a bitch,” she repeated.
We started looking through the files. It became obvious pretty quickly, that Vicki’s father was involved in something illegal. There were all types of financial transactions. Most of the names and addresses weren’t local, but one jumped out.
“There’s a building off Seventh Street that’s listed several times. It’s the only local address I can find. They might have taken Vicki and her family there,” I said.
“You don’t know that.”
“I don’t see any bodies. I don’t see a blood trail or signs of blood in the house. Their cars are still here. They were taken somewhere. It’s a place to start, at least.”
“I need to call this in. These records need to go in as evidence. I see mention of at least one arson that I know for a fact is unsolved. Once we look into this stuff more, I’m betting we manage to close several cases and re-open a bunch more.”
“Ok, but Vicki and her family, first. Who knows what is happening to them? Once this becomes an active crime scene, whoever took them might decide they are more of a problem alive, than they would be dead. If you call your friends, I’m still gonna go try and see what’s at this address. I can’t let anything happen to her.”
She stared at me for a few beats before nodding her head in assent, “Fine.”
We put everything back in the boxes like we found it, but left the door open. If we closed it, and Jawarski just pointed them to the cache of files, it would look pretty suspicious.
I’m not sure why I did it, but when she walked out of the room I grabbed the ledger I had been looking at and slid it into the back of my pants, pulling my shirt over to hide it.
Just like the feeling I had when looking at the room, there was something bugging me when we put all the books back. Until I could figure out what was bugging me, I decided to take a piece of the evidence, just in case.
Dumping the book under my seat, I followed her in my car to the building we saw in the ledger.
It was just out of downtown in a business park of about five or six fairly identical one story offices, with loading docks in the back of them.
“How do we handle this,” I asked her after we parked a few buildings down.
“I will go in and talk to whoever is working in that office, and see if anything seems out of place.”
“I’m going with you.”
“Like hell you are. You’re a sixteen year old kid.”
“Who pulled you away from a gun fight?”
“So every time you disagree with me, you’re going to hold that shit over my head?”
“I wasn’t holding it over your head. I was pointing out I don’t panic under pressure, and after seeing the stuff I was in last year, you know I can handle myself.”
Coming of Age /