Detective Jake Smith walked up the porch steps and lifted a fist in the air. His hand hung before tapping on the wooden door. The door cracked open. Two blue eyes peered out, rimmed red.
“Merry Christmas ma’am. I’m Detective Jake Smith. I’m here to speak about your daughter.”
The door opened wide.
“You mean my missing daughter? The one I keep calling about? The one your police station allowed to leave their custody at midnight, without offering her a ride? Is this the missing daughter you’re referring to?”
Jake’s head and voice lowered, “Let’s discuss this inside Mrs. White.”
“Oh, let’s do,” she said. Spinning on her heel, she marched into the house.
Merry Christmas? Jake chided himself, then followed her inside.
When he turned to close the door, he noticed two little faces in an upstairs window across the street. They waved, but he the door was closed before he could wave back. Then, the darkness of the house engulfed him. He squinted searching for the grieving mother.
A light clicked on and Mrs. White called out, “Yes, Detective. Come into the kitchen.”
“Smells….good.” He said as he approached.
“Does it?” she asked.
“Spit it out Detective. What did you come here to say?” Mrs. White put her hands on her hips and scowled.
Jake inhaled, held the breath, then released it with a sigh.
“We found her, Mrs. White.”
“Her or her body?” Mrs. White’s lips thinned, her face paled.
“We found her body.”
Two days ago, Jessica White had found herself in handcuffs wondering why no one believed her. She had been the victim. So what if she were a little drunk and barefoot at the time? Okay, maybe she shouldn’t have insulted the responding officer outside the 7-11, but he’d started this whole fiasco by asking, “Was the attacker your jon?”
At the police station, she’d given her report but the someone in charge decided she’d needed to sober up before being released back into society. Jessica thought this meant she would sleep in a bunk and call in a cab in the morning. To her surprise, her slumber was interrupted by an electric beep and the metal door sliding open.
“Come on. Your time out is done.” A nameless, faceless officer swept his arm into the corridor for her to follow.
She remained lying down. “I didn’t need a time out. I was the victim of assault. I’m the one whose purse was stolen and eye was beaten.”
“Let’s go.” The officer swept his arm into the corridor again. “Your freedom awaits, miss.”
If only that were true. Freedom wakes up with the sunrise, she isn’t a night owl waiting to embrace loners leaving the police station at night. Freedom works in tandem with safety and they both prefer daylight.
Jessica shuffled her bare feet into the corridor. No phone, no coat, nowhere to go.
“What time is it? I couldn’t have been in there all night,” she said.
Jessica marveled at the magical passing of time until she saw the first window in the station, nighttime.
“11:00 pm? I thought you were keeping me until morning.”
“I don’t decide who comes and goes. I just open the cell and escort people in or out.”
“Where am I going to go? My phone was stolen. I have no shoes. Is someone going to drive me home?” she asked.
“You think we’re Uber? You know the streets, you figure it out.”
Dumbstruck, Jessica stared at him. She knew the streets well enough to commute by bus to her job Monday through Friday. She knew the streets well enough to avoid walking alone after sunset. She might’ve been more offended at his assumption of her night life, but she’d considered that alternative more than once.
Jessica had only one phone number memorized. The one she never dialed.
She played chicken with her free phone call. She waited until after the release form was signed, after she received a bill for intake fees, after she was given hospital socks as makeshift shoes, after she gripped the door handle separating her from the station’s fluorescent lights and a midnight sky. She relented. Jessica released the handle and turned to the nearest counter with an officer.
“Can I make a phone call?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said, lifting the phone onto the desk. “Dial 7, then the number.”
Jessica’s breath quickened. Her stomach flipped. The same fight or flight sensations she felt hours ago when a masked attacker punched her eye as she refused to hand over her purse.
One ring. Maybe she won’t answer.
Two rings. What if she doesn’t?
Three rings. Beep.
“No one is home to take your call. Please leave a message.”
“Hi, Mom. It’s Jess. I need a ride. I’m at the police station. I was attacked. Someone stole my purse with my phone. I’ll wait as long as they’ll let me. Bye.”
Sandra White would not be caught dead out in public after dark. She’d even prefer no one see her at night in her own home. With no husband, no young children, and no friends, she was content to dose on lavender and melatonin promptly at 9:30 every evening. What if there was an emergency? Well, there hadn’t been an emergency in 27 years, not since she went into labor at midnight. Could she hear the phone? Hard to say, no one ever called. Not even her disappoint of a daughter.
Sandra sniffed her lavender oil, swallowed her melatonin, and gazed out of the front room window. Across the street two children were playing – in the dark – with flashing Santa and his miniature reindeer. Was Jessica ever that happy as a child? When she thought of her daughter, she could only visualize Jessica’s specialty frown. The one that said, “Why can’t you be like other moms?”
Well, other moms had husbands who came home after work. Other moms had friends who’d trade babysitting. Other moms wanted to be moms.
She rolled her eyes at the ridiculous children and went to bed. When she awoke at 8:00 am, she didn’t know why a flashing light silently yelled at her from across the room. Sandra pulled on a robe and padded over to inspect the machine.
“We found her body.” Jake Smith repeated. “I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.”
“Loss is life, isn’t it?” Mrs. White deflated with the news. Her angry eyes dimmed, her furrowed brows softened, her sharp chin drooped toward her chest.
Jake loved his job, but he hated this. Entering the home of someone recently bereft of a love one felt like walking into an abandoned mine shaft, dark and forlorn. Jake assured Mrs. White they’d spend every effort tracking down the murderer, but he was careful to do so without actually making promises.
He navigated his way toward the front door, while Mrs. White remained frozen to the counter.
Outside, as Jake opened the door to his car, he heard laughter across the street. Two children played in the sunshine. They waved, marveling at his police car, “Merry Christmas Mister!”
He nodded, returned to the station, and started the investigation.
Thank you for reading this story today, your time is the most flattering gift of all.
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