It’s time for another quick short story. This week’s prompt was “retain” and it’s the final part of the series that’s been published the past few weeks.
I hope you enjoy the story.
It was a lot of information to retain. Dowen and Witt had their fair share of hard crimes in the past but this particular case was hard to wrap their heads around. The two detectives found themselves sitting in a coffee shop late at night. Normally they wouldn’t discuss cases in public but the shop was nearing its closing time and there weren’t many people around. The two partners sat in a booth in the back of the cafe, both with a cup of coffee in hand.
“Let’s do a recap,” Dowen suggested. “Alisha and Ben decided to take a walk on the bridge early this morning. Alisha discussed jumping off it, Ben jokingly dared her to do it. She did.”
Witt held up two fingers. “Right before she jumped, a stranger – male – arrived on the scene. He tried to talk Alisha down off the ledge. She jumped anyway. He got back into the car and drove away never to be seen again.”
“This man never showed his face to the camera on the bridge, Ben didn’t recognize him, and the car was stolen from Eli Thomas, who happens to be one of Ben’s and Alisha’s teachers,” Dowen continued.
“We need to figure out the identity of this man and track him down.”
“On the other hand, we need to report back to Eli and ask why he never actually reported his car stolen. Does he know this man somehow and let him borrow the car? Did he know what happened and tried to cover up what he knew because either he doesn’t want to get involved or he’s guilty of something?”
“He’s guilty of lying to us about the car, that much is for sure.” Witt casually took a sip of her coffee.
“To keep it going,” Dowen continued, “We found a young girl lost in the woods with amnesia. It turned out to be Elizabeth, missing for two months. We had yet to find any remnants from Alisha. No body. What are the odds of us finding a missing girl from two months ago but not finding the girl who disappeared just this morning?”
Witt shrugged. “Alisha’s body was most likely swept away in the river. I’m sorry to say it, but she must be gone by now. I don’t think there’s anything else we can do for her now.”
“Police are still searching though.”
“I know. We won’t stop until it’s been a full 24 hours.”
Dowen sighed. “Which is nearly 12 hours away.”
“It’s not just Alisha though,” Witt added, “we can’t even find her parents.”
Dowen shook his head and groaned. They had sent a few police officers over to the house and neither of the parents were home. The officers were staking out the house, waiting, but no one had arrived.
“I wonder if they’re away for the weekend?” Witt guessed.
“They wouldn’t try to check in with their daughter?” Dowen replied.
“Maybe they have. They can’t get a hold of her and they’re freaking out just like we are.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so. We have her cell phone now and all the messages are from an unknown number. I’d assume she had her parents in her contacts. There should have been a couple messages and missed calls from them.”
Witt remained silent. Her partner had a point, she hadn’t thought about it like that. She was trying to be optimistic but at this point, it was hard to feel that way with the progress that was being made in this case. It seemed as though once they figured out one thing, it only brought upon them more questions than answers.
“So,” she said, “we need to find Alisha’s parents, Alisha’s body, figure out who is contacting her on her cell phone, figure out who that man on the bridge was, and have another chat with Eli Thomas.”
“Our work is cut out for us. Maybe we can talk to Elizabeth and her parents again,” Dowen said.
“I don’t know… I find it strange we stumbled upon her instead of Alisha. I feel like it’s too much of a coincidence.”
“You know how this line of work goes though. You can’t just feel like something is connected. There has to be a reason behind it or some sort of proof. No one is going to want to look more into Elizabeth and what happened to her while they’re searching for Alisha’s body. Elizabeth’s story will be a different case entirely, one we might not even be assigned.”
Dowen nodded. “I know, I know… do you know what I mean though?”
“I do,” Witt sighed. “Unfortunately, we need to focus on Alisha and put together more pieces of what’s going on. Whether we find her or not, something is fishy around here.”
“We’ll head to Eli’s first thing in the morning. Tomorrow’s Sunday so I assume he’ll be home. He’s a teacher, so he’ll have the day off.”
Witt hummed in agreement. Hopefully, the teacher would be able to shed more light on the situation. If they could figure out why he didn’t report his car stolen, then they might be able to figure out what sort of involvement he has in this case and who actually took the car. It was easy to assume Eli knew who took the car and was covering for them, which was why he never reported it in the first place.
Dowen put some cash on the table and nodded his head to the door. “Let’s go.”
They met at the station first thing the following morning. A new set of police officers continued their search at the bridge for Alisha, though hope was diminishing. Their search would end soon enough. They weren’t able to spend all their resources on this one search.
They didn’t enter the station at all. Witt hopped from her car to Dowen’s car and they immediately went on their way to Eli’s house. It was early, seven o’clock in the morning. If Eli wasn’t awake, they were going to wake him up. They needed answers and they needed them fast. Time was running out.
Lucky for them, when they arrived at the house, they saw Eli through the kitchen window. He saw them too and didn’t look happy to see them.
“Notice his car isn’t in the driveway,” Witt said quietly as the two waited by the front door.
Dowen looked at the driveway. “Maybe his wife came home late last night?”
The conversation came to a halt as Eli opened the front door. He greeted them with a small smile encouraging the detectives to enter. “Good morning. I have to admit, I didn’t think you guys would be back, especially not so soon.”
“Let’s get right into it,” Dowen said. He walked into the living room and Witt followed as Eli closed the front door.
“Did your wife come home?” Dowen asked.
Eli shook his head. “Why do you ask?”
“We noticed your car was gone from the driveway and yet, here you are,” Witt explained.
Eli bit his lower lip. He finally shrugged and smirked at them. “Okay, well you got me. I assume you know I didn’t actually call it in to report it was stolen yesterday, huh?”
Witt nodded. “That’s why we’re here.”
Dowen glared at him. “You better have a good reason for lying. Were you in fact the man who drove to the bridge and watched Alisha jump?”
Eli’s eyes bugged out of his head. He held his hands up in surrender. “No, I swear! The only thing I lied about was not reporting my car. I knew who took my car and I was afraid he had done something stupid so… I got nervous and lied. I didn’t want to get in trouble and I didn’t want him to get into trouble.”
“Who are you talking about?” Dowen said with a low growl.
“My younger brother,” Eli said. “He… uh, he lost his license. Too many infractions on his record. Whenever my wife goes on a business trip, he comes by and borrows the car. She doesn’t like it so he does it behind her back. I don’t like it either – I don’t want him to ruin my car and I also want him to stay safe. But I feel bad saying no.”
Witt sighed. “You realize he’s breaking the law regardless, right? We’re going to have to report this.”
Eli shrugged. “I know.”
“What’s his name and what does he look like? Do you have reason to believe he was at the bridge yesterday morning?” Dowen asked.
“His name is Andrew. I honestly don’t know about the bridge,” Eli pointed to the window. “He’s pulling in now. You’re lucky you’re not in a police car. Otherwise he’d be running with my car right now.”
Dowen rolled his eyes. “Great, this should be fun.”
Eli held up a finger as he walked out of the living room. “He normally leaves right away. Let me tell him to come in.”
The two detectives waited in silence in the living room. They heard Eli call to his brother asking him to come in for a cup of coffee. Andrew replied with a cheerful tone.
Eli pointed to the living room once Andrew was in the house. Andrew pointed to the two detectives and looked back at his brother.
“Detective Dowen and this is my partner, Detective Witt,” Dowen said, flashing his badge.
Andrew groaned. He leaned against the wall sulking. It was easy to see he knew he was caught.
“Your brother told us he lets you borrow his car,” Witt said.
Andrew looked up at her and nodded.
“Did you drive across the bridge yesterday morning?” Dowen asked.
Andrew stiffened. He looked back at Eli and then the detectives. “You’re wondering about that girl who jumped, right? Is she okay?”
Witt shook her head. “We haven’t found her.”
Andrew frowned gazing at the ground. “I drove by, yeah. I saw two kids and thought it was odd they were there in the first place. I thought they might have been lost or maybe their car had broken down. I was going to pull over and ask if they needed help – I’m actually pretty good with cars but I could have at least let them borrow my cell phone if they needed it.
“Anyway,” he cleared his throat, “as I drove up the girl jumped on top of the railing. I stopped, panicking. I probably didn’t sound nice at all when I told her to get down, but I didn’t know what to do. The boy panicked as well. It didn’t matter though. She barely waited for us to talk. She just jumped!”
“Then what did you do?” Dowen asked. He wrote everything down in his notepad.
Andrew shook his head, not looking them in the eye. “I ran away… I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You didn’t think to call and report it right away? You didn’t think to stay with the boy?” Witt suggested.
“I did, yeah,” Andrew nodded looking back up at the two detectives. “I know this is going to make me sound like a jerk but I was afraid if I was there and the cops saw me driving… I knew they were going to talk to me, ask me my name… it’s not my car.”
“You don’t have your license either,” Dowen said flatly.
Andrew looked back at Eli. “You told them…?”
“We’ll talk about that later,” Dowen said sternly. “Where did you drive off to after the girl jumped?”
“I came back here.” Andrew pointed behind him to his brother. “I had a feel the cops could be around at any minute and I didn’t want to be driving on the road when they swarmed around. I still had errands to run but I came right back here, dropped the car off, and ran back to my house pretending I never went out in the first place.”
“Do you know there are cameras on the bridge?” Witt asked. Normally she didn’t like to come right out and ask such a question.
This made it easier for him to lie and feign ignorance. However, there was no other way around it. They needed to know why he did what he did and if he was going to lie, there was proof at the station.
Andrew nodded. “Is that how you knew about the car?”
“It wasn’t easy. You parked the car in a specific way,” Witt explained.
“You pulled over on the wrong side of the road and when you got in and out of the car, the driver’s side was off-camera and you walked backwards so the camera wouldn’t catch your face,” Dowen stated.
Andrew looked at the two detectives. “I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking from me, but yeah. I did that because of the camera. Everyone knows it’s there and I didn’t want you guys to come tracking me down if you recognized me. So, I tried to hide from the camera as best as I could.”
“That was the only reason? You just wanted to hide from us because of your license?” Witt asked.
Andrew nodded. He cracked a nervous smile. “You guys seem disappointed…”
“Did you know either of the kids that were on the bridge?” Dowen asked.
Andrew shook his head. Then he froze. “Wait… you guys don’t think I had anything to do with this… right?” he looked back at Eli who kept a pokerface, and then turned back to the two detectives in a panic.
Witt let out a sigh. “No. Not anymore.”
When the two detectives made it back to the station, Witt sat at her desk with Dowen sitting across from it in silence. They didn’t know where else to go from here. They had checked the cameras from the bridge and spoke to Ben, Eli, and Andrew. They solved the mystery of the car. They checked out Alisha’s cell phone and that turned out to be a dead end. The burner phone messages didn’t even have information about the bridge at all. It seemed as though she was only getting homework and test answers which was not as serious as some of the other things she could talk to strangers about. They had found another missing girl from two months ago. She had amnesia, but she was out of the hospital and now back home safe and sound with her parents.
It seemed as though they solved a few mysteries and yet, they solved nothing.
They never found Alisha or her body. The search ceased about an hour ago, not too long after Witt and Dowen had spoken to Andrew and Eli again. After 24 hours, it was safe to assume Alisha was swept away in the icy current.
They had finally gotten a hold of Alisha’s parents to finally tell them the news. In fact, it was Ben’s parents who got in contact with them. Apparently, Alisha had been getting into some trouble lately so when the police called, Alisha’s parents avoided it. They were both in the interrogation room for running from the police and neglecting to check in with their daughter. According to them, they tried but Alisha never answered her phone and the GPS always led to Ben’s house so they assumed she was okay. Of course, Ben had taken the cell phone from the crime scene in an attempt to conduct his own investigation. He should have gotten into trouble for that one, but Dowen and Witt – after everything that had happened within the past 24 hours – they had decided to let that one slide.
“Where do we go from here?” Witt asked, breaking the heavy silence.
Dowen widened his tired eyes and shook his head. “I think we’re done with this one. Andrew will be processed for what he did. Eli got off with a warning for lying to police. Alisha’s parents will be seeing some consequences. Ben, I believe, will get off just fine. He withheld evidence, but I don’t think we need to blame him for anything. He’ll get off with a warning. We reunited one family but we still lost another kid.”
Witt chuckled in disbelief. “Imagine, all these little crimes within one day and none of them had anything to do with the major crime at hand.”
“It’s amazing what people will do to take care of themselves, but not for others,” Dowen agreed.
“Unless you’re Ben.”
“Yeah, unless you’re Ben.”
The chief had tried to give the two detectives the rest of the day off after working so much the previous day. However, both of them needed to take their mind off of the case that they nearly begged for a new one. The chief obliged handing them a murder case that had been called in just moments before.
Dowen and Witt grabbed their coats and headed out of the station for a brand new day, a brand new case.