Newcrest was 20 minutes from Channelside by car. It only took me one minute to realize that letting my mind wander right now was dangerous. I tried to preoccupy myself with all the gizmos Jay’s squad car had, after all, it was my first time in a cop car, but there was still a nagging present in the back of my mind. So, I waited for Jay to break the silence. He hated silence.
By the third minute, I was certain I was losing my mind, “So, why didn’t you tell me that you were a police officer?”
He shrugged, “You didn’t ask and… well, I’m assigned to your parent’s case.”
“Shouldn’t that be a reason to tell me instead of a reason not to?”
“I’m not supposed to disclose ongoing investigations with family members, Willow. If you knew I was assigned to the case I thought you might ask me for information -” He laughed, correcting himself, “Well, I guess now I know you would ask me for information and I knew I would have told you.”
His reasoning was sound, but it didn’t stop the ping of annoyance. He had every right to put his career before me – I was his ex, barely even a friend anymore – but I couldn’t deny that I wanted his allegiance to me to be more important than his allegiance to the force. It was selfish, so I tried to bury it, “Are you a detective?”
Jay shook his head slowly, “Not yet.”
“Then what do you do on my parent’s case?”
“You’ve met Detective Creed before. I’m his partner, more like assistant really. I handle evidence, get to sit in while he questions people sometimes. Newcrest gets more violent crime than Willow Creek. That’s why they called us in, but still, a double homicide is -” Jay’s explanation came to a grinding halt when he glanced in my direction.
My face was scrunched up like I had sucked on a lemon, “Did you see them?”
“I was called to the scene. Yes.”
“Was it bad?” Mr. Dale had been the one to identify their bodies. The funeral had been closed casket. I had never seen what remained of my parent’s after that night.
“There was, um… there were significant amounts of decomposition by the time… No, it wasn’t, Will. Your mother was shot in the chest, your father in the stomach. You know that though…. But um, it wasn’t bad.”
He was lying, he had always been a bad liar. I glanced out the window, watching as trees turned into buildings when an imagine of my family home the night I had arrived popped into my mind. It had been spotless, “Do you know who cleaned my house?”
“I did – well, the department did. I asked if I could clean up the crime scene after we were done. A few of the guys helped out.”
“I knew this was going to be hard on you. You didn’t need to see that on top of it all.”
I paused, unsure how to respond except with a simple, “Thank you.”
The words hardly seemed enough, but Jay smiled and in that moment I felt like maybe I could handle this with Jay beside me.
The precinct came into view, decimating the fleeting feeling of security. I was out of the vehicle before Jay had even finished parking. I had no idea where I was going, but my feet moved on their own: through double doors and into the lobby. I had always imagined a police department would be bustling; officers running around, criminals being booked, the hum of conversation drifting through corridors. Instead, there was the screeching of a toddler and a lone lady manning the front desk. Her eyebrows were knitted, but she smiled at me, “Hello, did you need help?”
Jay’s warmth filled the cool air beside me, a hand coming to rest on my shoulder, “She is with me, Maxine.”
Maxine seemed surprised, red lips forming a perfect O, but she recovered quickly, requesting his assistance, “Jay, do you think you could watch Kylie until Child Protective Services comes? I can’t calm the poor thing down.”
“I’m in the middle of something, Maxine.”
Maxine’s eyes swept over me then back to Jay. She looked unconvinced, “Mhm.” She wheeled backward, revealing a dark-haired girl, the source of the screams, sprawled underneath her desk, “She’s not being booked, and you are off-duty. So, please, tell me what are you bringing that pretty young thing into the back for that can’t be done with this baby?”
I felt my face flush, but Jay simply snorted at her, “Do you really think I would take a date here to hook up with them? That would be -”
“Dumb,” She finished for him, “You know what else would be dumb? Taking a civilian on a tour without authorization.”
“Alright, alright,” Jay raised his hands in mock surrender, “I’ll take her.”
The relief on Maxine’s face was instantaneous, “Oh, thank the Maker. You’re a natural with children. I don’t know how you do it, they all hate me.”
“Yeah, that’s probably because you stick them under your desk and ignore them.” Jay grumbled under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear. I couldn’t help the small smile that made its way onto my lips as Jay scooped the girl up. She looked no older than two. Jay began to bounce her on his hip, and her wails calmed to sniffles. Within seconds her hand found its way into her mouth, muffling any further sounds she made. Jay was an only child, like me, but Maxine wasn’t lying when she said he had a way with children.
Once Kylie had settled down, Jay led me to the left of Maxine – past a half-dozen desks that were all currently unoccupied – until we came to a narrow hallway lined with large windows on either side. I peered into one as we passed, expecting to see the starlit sky. Instead, there was a rusty table with a couple of chair on either side of it.
The realization that the man who killed my family was behind one of these windows hit me. My stomach twisted, and Jay’s free hand steadied me as he voiced his concern, “We can turn around. You don’t have to do this right now. I don’t think this will help you, Will. I think it might make it -”
“I want to see him.” No matter how sick I felt my resolve wouldn’t be broken. I had to know who he was. Jay frowned but stepped backward, allowing me access to the window he had stopped in front of.
Inside was a skinny thing, dark hair unkempt, a beat up tank top hanging limply from his frame. He was sitting directly across from the detective questioning him, directly across from me, but his face was buried in his arms. He stayed like that for some time. When he finally adjusted himself in his seat I caught his brown eyes with my own. It was just a second, but it was long enough.
Long enough for me to take in his sunken cheeks. His red, glossy eyes. He was young – too young – and I took a step back, eyebrows furrowed, “This isn’t funny, Jay. That kid looks like he’s sixteen. I swear to the Maker if this was your lame attempt at -”
I paused, taking in Jay’s expression. In all the years I had known him he was rarely serious; always had a smile playing on his lips – a smirk, really – and a glint in his eyes that betrayed his impish nature.
Now he was resolute.
“No. No, no, no.” I shook my head, “There’s got to be a mistake. You must have made a mistake.”
“No! You’re making a mistake. Let this poor kid go. You’ve got the wrong person, Jay. Surely you can see that! How could he – he’s couldn’t possibly -”
I didn’t realize I was yelling until Jay grabbed me by my arm, hurrying me into the adjacent interrogation room. The door clicked shut behind us. Kylie began to cry. I paced, hands shaking, confusion sending doubt rapid firing through my mind.
It couldn’t be him. Not that defeated child with the tear stained cheeks, his face gaunt and twisted with sorrow. How could he have had the strength to overpower my father? The man who had protected me my whole life. What reason could that kid possibly have to end my mother’s life? Why was he even there in the first place? It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense.
The man who had killed my parents was a monster, and what I had seen in that room was not a monster.
I spin around to face him, the whole world unsteady and shifting out from under me. Jay is speaking but I don’t hear his words, nor do I care to, “How do you know it was him? What evidence do you have?”
“Will. He confessed. He came in and he confessed.”
“He just waltzed right in and said he murdered my parents?”
Jay sighed, “Not exactly. He came in with Kylie. Said he needed to file a report. We didn’t think the report was going to be a written confession to murder.”
“He came in with her?” Their hair was the same shade of brown.
“His sister.” Jay clarified.
My fingernails bit sharply into my palms as I clenched and unclenched my hands repeatedly, “He’s lying then.”
“Will, he’s not -”
“He has to be lying! If you’re so sure he’s not, where is your proof?” I’m shouting again, not completely in control of my volume.
Jay looks torn, but his eyes never leave my face. Instead of responding he crosses the room, pulls out a chair. The metal scraps against the concrete floor. He doesn’t take a seat. Instead, he holds my gaze, as if waiting for something – waiting for me. I comply.
“Willow, I will be right back. I am going to lock the door behind me.”
I furrowed my brow, annoyed and angry, “You don’t trust me?”
Jay laughed, “I’m pretty confident you might break into an ongoing interrogation if I don’t.”
I don’t respond to his accusation. That’s what it feels like – an accusation. I realize that Jay meant for it to lighten the mood, but he only dumped fuel where he meant to dump water.
The door clicked shut. A quick glance behind me reveals that he took Kylie with him. Couldn’t trust me with her, either. The thought is venomous, and more of them come. Waves of poison. Of doubt. Of pain and confusion.
I take a deep breath; focus on the cold bite of the metal against my legs. It clears my mind. I click my nails on the table, counting the reps, to keep the thoughts from coming back. I am on 53 when Jay returns, toddler free.
“This is how I know he’s not lying.” Jay’s voice cracks as he slides a necklace in front of me.
Sapphires glint under fluorescent lights composing the wings of two sterling silver butterflies. The necklace is beautiful. It’s simple. It’s my mother’s.
“H-he had this?” My voice cracks, vision blurs.
“The moment he gave it to Creed I knew…”
I swallow hard, throat tightening. My cheeks are warm and wet. Solid arms wrap around me, force me onto my feet, though I am completely supported by Jay’s weight.
“What’s his name.”
“Carson. His name is Carson.”
“Carson.” The name is thick on my tongue. It feels strange there.
I try again, “Carson.”
My nails are digging into my palms again. The pain grounds me, keeps me from plunging into the pit I have been teetering on. I’m afraid if I allow myself to fall into I’ll….Well, I’m not sure what.
I just know I’ll regret it.