It was like something out of a horror movie. She lay sprawled on the floor the right side of her head bloody. A silver necklace hung around her neck, with the pendant shaped with the words “Carla”. She wore a look of horror on her face. Her blue eyes were wide open in shock, and her blond hair was sticky with blood. The tree was splattered with blood.
“Jesus Christ” James heard Corbin whisper. “This is insane.”
“I agree.” James replied. “Whoever did this is sick.”
Gary Stevens the medical examiner was examining the body. He glanced up when He saw the two of them approaching. The CSU was finishing up.
“What do we have Gary?” James asked.
“Nothing concrete yet. Cause of death probably blunt force trauma, but I can’t be sure until I get her back to the lab. Multiple lacerations suggest, her head was hurled against the tree several times with a substantial amount of force. Her body temperature indicates she should have been dead for about a couple of days or more. There were also signs of struggle; she has got fabric on her nails, but no tissue. I’ll be able to identify it when I run some tests.”
“Who found her?” Corbin asked.
“Those two kids over there,” Gary nodded to two frightened looking kids, a boy and a girl, talking to a man in uniform. “Your boys are talking to them now.”
Corbin and James walked over to where they stood. “Was there anyone around when you found her?” The officer was asking.
“W-we heard a n-noise like rustling of leaves b-but I think it was just the wind.” The girl sobbed. “W-we were just hiking, we lost track of time and we were heading home. We cut through this clearing because it was shorter and then we found her.”
“We thought it was an animal or something” The boy added a little more composed but visibly shaken. “We moved closer and then saw her on the.”
“You said you recognize her?” the officer said.
“Yes. That’s Carla Heathway.” The boy said. “Everyone knows her.”
“Thank you.” The officer closed his notebook. “Your parents will be here soon.”
“Hey Jakes” James greeted. “It’s Terrible, huh?”
“Yeah,” Jake replied. “No one wanted it to turn out this way.”
“Our witnesses give any good info?” Corbin asked.
“Just say they found her.” He replied. “No other people around. ” He glanced at James “You working this case? I thought you were on desk duty.”
“I am officially back in the field.” James replied. “The girls parents are big shots in this community, so Jones wants all hands on deck.”
“Well I’ll send you a full report.” Jakes said. “Have to head back.”
He gave Jake a pat on the shoulder and walked towards his car.as James watched the ME zip the body in a bag, Corbin spoke up.
“So what’s next?” He asked.
“My least favourite part” James said. “Talking to the parents.”
* * *
“Do you know anyone that would want to harm your daughter?” James asked.
It was in the morning. “Dr. Ethan and Moraine Heathway had been too exhausted to talk the previous night. So they had gone back to the station and filled out the paperwork, and returned to the Heathway mansion in the morning.”
“I don’t know.” Ethan Heathway said. “When she went missing, we didn’t know what to think. We didn’t think she could be dead.”
“Please I know this is difficult. But I want you to think back in the past week, was there any evidence at all that suggested your daughter might have been back in town?”
“Not that we know of.” Ethan said. “We have been busy this past week so we didn’t have time-” He broke off.
“What about the other girls, or your son?” Corbin asked. “Did any of them suggest that they had seen Carla?”
“Not that we know of” Said Ethan. “You’ll have to ask them. As for John, he hasn’t been here the past week.”
“Okay, one last thing.” James said. “Was Carla seeing anyone, maybe from school?”
“A young man, Thomas Bridges. He doesn’t go to their school anymore; he is a freshman in college. They have been going out since he was a senior in high school.”
“Okay thank you.” James stood up. “We will call you with updates.”
“Please find who did this.” Ethan stood up and stretched out his right arm. “We want justice.”
“We will do our best.” James said grasping the Doctor’s hand. As Corbin also shook him, James glanced at Moraine who had kept silent throughout. This was the first time he would see a lawyer stone silent. She was curled up of the sofa, her eyes puffy and red from crying. He said to her gently “I am sorry for your loss.” She didn’t even acknowledge him. He nodded at the doctor and headed out of the house with Corbin behind him.
* * *
“Well that was depressing” Corbin said as they headed out. “I wonder where the brother has been.”
“Probably out getting himself drunk.” James said. “Didn’t he get arrested for a DUI?”
“Yeah but the case was dismissed.” Corbin said. “Have the lab results comeback yet?”
“No, I am going to see Gary right now.” James said. “We still haven’t got a solid time frame.”
“We need to talk to those girls.” James said. “Either she was kidnapped and brought back here, She came back on her own, or-”
“The girls murdered her, stuck her in the woods and went on vacation to cover it up? I like that theory.” Corbin grinned.
“Well let’s get a time frame before you start your wild theories. Besides, what about the boyfriend? Surely he knows something.”
“He definitely does. Let’s go right now. We can swing by the ME’s office later.” Corbin said.”
“Alright, let’s go” James headed towards the car.
“Hang on got to make a phone call.” Corbin said.
“Calling Victoria,” James teased.
“You know it.” Corbin grinned as he put his phone to his ear. James laughed and got in the car. After a few seconds, Corbin got in.
“You know what? I need you to drop me off at home. You can go on without me. You got the address for Thomas Bridges?”
“Yeah. Why you got to go home?”
“Got to take care of something. We’ll meet at the ME’s office.”
“Okay, sounds like a plan.” James said. He started the car and drove off to Corbin’s house. After he dropped him off, he drove towards Thomas Bridge’s house.
* * *
It took him a while to find Thomas’ apartment. It was a building with about fifty apartments. The apartment number wasn’t included in the address, so he asked for a Thomas Bridge but the landlord told him there was none in the building. He called again to confirm the address, and it was correct. He then asked the landlord to show him a list of tenants, and in apartment forty. A name stuck out. Carla Heathway.
“That’s good I think I’ve found him.” James said grimly. He thanked the man and hurried up the stairs. He got to the door of apartment forty and knocked. It was a white door, with the number forty printed in gold. He looked at his watch. He was running late. He would have to make this quick. A few seconds later the door opened. A girl stood in the doorway. She had blond hair, blue eyes. She wore a yellow shirt with blue jeans.
“Carla?” James asked in surprise. He was confused. The girl looked like Carla. She shifted uncomfortably.
“Um I’m sorry you’ve got the wrong person.” She said, attempting to close the door.
“Wait” James put his hands on the door. He took out his badge and showed it to her. “James Ashwood, HPD, I am looking for a Thomas Bridge.”
Her eyes widened slightly “Oh um come on in. He is inside. I’ll just step out.”
“That’s not really necessary.” James said as he stepped inside.
“Oh no I actually have to go. I’m late.” She grabbed a set of keys from the table and stepped out the door.
“Who is there?” a male voice called out. A boy wearing nothing but jeans and rubbing a towel over his wet hair stepped into the room. he froze when he saw James.
“Who are you?” He asked.
“Are you Thomas Bridge?”
“Yeah, who are you?” he asked again.
“James Ashwood, HPD. I want to talk to you about Carla Heathway.”
He faltered. “Okay let me put on a shirt. Please have a seat.” He went into the room
The apartment was small but was well furnished. He had a TV, a dinner table, some chairs desk drawers, with books scattered all over it. He couldn’t see the kitchen.
He came out wearing a shirt. “I’m here.” He sat down. “You can call me Tom. So you have some questions for me?”
“You do know Carla is dead right?” James said bluntly.
“Yes, I heard” He said in an abashed manner.
“You don’t seem so torn up about it. Heck you even found a replacement. Weren’t you two dating?”
“No it’s not like that” He held his hands up. “Carla and I are-were broken up.”
“Really?” James brought out his notebook and pen. “When did this happen?”
“About three weeks ago.” He replied. “A week before she left”
“Why did you two break up?”
Tom shrugged. “We wanted different things.”
“Is this your apartment?” James asked.
“I live here don’t I?”
“Then why is Carla’s name on the lease?”
Tom legs shifted uncomfortably. “Well she got me the apartment.”
A question nagged at his mind but he couldn’t figure it out
James glanced at his notes, “Where were you on the night of April 5th?”
“I was home.” James said “Probably sleeping.”
“Can anybody corroborate that?” James asked.
“I was home alone so-” Tom shrugged.
“Was Carla having any problems with anyone, maybe at school?”
“I don’t know, maybe Ben Adrian.”
“Who is he?”
“He is the student body president. Carla-she framed him for stealing exam questions.”
“Why did she do it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she wanted his spot at Yale.”
“He got into Yale?”
“Tom opened his mouth to talk but then James phone rang. “Hold on” he muttered and answered it. “Hello?”
“James buddy you’ve got to get down here quick” Corbin’s voice panted. “Gary Stevens has been murdered.”
* * *
James rushed down to the ME’s office. He had scheduled an interview with Tom later in the day. He parked in front of the building and rushed inside. The place was already crawling with CSU and news media. Some reporters shouted some questions for him, but he ignored them and ran. This case was turning out to be dangerous. He ran into the autopsy room.
The crime scene was even worse than what he had seen in the woods. Gary Stevens lay down on the floor covered in a pool of blood. The office was splattered with blood. The autopsy table was empty. Corbin was standing over the scene looking grim.
“What happened?” James blurted.
“An attendant came and met him like this. Carla Heathway’s body is gone. So are the autopsy reports.”
“And no one saw or heard anything?”
“No. it’s a Sunday, The office was pretty much empty. Just him and a couple other people”
“Have they checked security footage?”
“All gone.” Corbin said. “Perp covered his tracks. Or her,” He added.
“So we have no body, no autopsy we have just been reset back to zero?”
“Yeah. Well we have the murder weapon. He showed him a knife in a plastic bag. We we’ll see if we can pull some prints from it.”
“Whoever did this was probably Carla’s killer. He did it to cover his tracks. He wouldn’t be stupid to leave tracks behind” James said
“Well we both know mistakes happen.” Corbin said. Besides he left a set of bloody footprints. They lead outside through the emergency exit.
“You think he had a car waiting?” James said.
“Definitely, Corbin said. “I’ll pull up traffic cam footage. He left the room.”
James walked over to an ME who was examining the body. “How long do you think he has been dead?”
“A few minutes. Not up to an hour” He said. “His body is pretty warm.”
James left the room. He remembered Gary’s family; a wife and two little kids. He walked outside angrily. He saw Corbin approaching.
“Just made the call. They are pulling up Traffic cam footage.”
“You think the killer is still here?”
“Nah he’s long gone. How did it go with Bridge?”
“We are meeting later today. What about the other girls? Shouldn’t we bring them in?”
“Already made the call. They are coming with their parents to the station.”
“Alright hop in the car let’s go.” James opened the door.
“Nah got a car out back. I’m right behind you.”
“Okay.” James got in his car. He had a feeling this case was going to be a roller coaster.
* * *
They came by around noon.
When James looked in the room, he saw three girls, one red-head, a brunette and a blonde sitting in the room. Sitting on either side of the blonde were two stern looking man and woman, presumably her parents. Beside the Red hair was a woman with similar features as the girl, and beside the brunette was a tiny looking woman with dark hair.
“Dibs on the blonde” Corbin winked at James.
“You know she will be with her parent’s right?” James said.
James opened the door of the room. The ginger haired woman stood up. “Hi, I’m Maria Stuart. That my daughter, Hazel” She shook their hands. She wore a pearl necklace. James noticed. She looked like a woman who had opulent wealth.
“Detective James Ashwood, this is my partner Corbin O ‘Brian” He replied returning the handshake.
“Well Detective I don’t see why my daughter is being brought back. She has told the police everything that happened that night.”
“Well Mrs. Stuart, this is no longer a missing person’s case. It is now a murder investigation.” He looked at the rest.
“Michael and Sarah Peters” Michael said as he and his wife stood up and shook hands stood up that’s Toni.” James looked at Toni, she looked familiar.
“Martha Green, This is Jasmine.” Martha’s daughter shook hands with the detectives. James glanced again at the blonde who was looking directly at the floor.
“Mr. and Mrs. Peters, can you follow me inside.” James said. “Let’s get on with it.”
As they stood up and followed him, James moved close to Corbin and whispered to him. “She was in Bridge’s house this morning.” Corbin raised his eyebrow but said nothing.
When they were seated inside, James glanced at his file. “I understand you were close friends with the victim.”
“Yeah” Toni said. “We all were.”
“But you had a closer relationship with her.” Corbin probed
Toni gave a sad smile. “We were like sisters.” She gave her parents a dirty look, James didn’t miss it.
James gave a wry smile, “Well you look so much like her.”
“Yeah,” She said.
“Did you see Carla the day before you all left for Newport?”
“No, well we saw briefly in school but only for a moment. We all talked later on the phone that day.”
James glanced at his file again. “In the previous statement you gave to the police, you said Carla had disappeared from the house on Saturday night.”
“Yeah. At first we thought she ditched us, and went off with those guys from the party. But then we found her cellphone in the house. Carla would never leave that behind.”
“So you went looking for her?” James asked.
“Naturally,” Toni replied. “We searched all night but didn’t find her.”
“How about the boys in the party? Did you know any of them?” James inquired.
Toni hesitated. “No.”
“So you eventually called the police?” James said
“Yes. It seemed silly but we felt like it was the right thing to do”
“Do you see anyone familiar when you went to Newport? Like someone you thought you had seen in Harbor?” Corbin asked
“No,” Toni answered firmly.
“And you didn’t see a glimpse anyone who looked like Carla in Harbor this past week?” James probed.
“She has been grounded all week” Michael Peters interrupted. “She hasn’t left the house.”
James raised his eyebrows at Toni.
“What he said.” Toni muttered.
“So you were not in Thomas Bridges’ house this morning?”
Toni’s parents gave her a sharp look but said nothing.
Toni dropped her eyes. “Yeah I actually stepped out to see him. I wanted to talk to someone about Carla?” Toni said.
“Why not see one of your other friends?” Corbin asked.
“I don’t know. Talking to him just felt right.”
“Do you know of anyone that might have wanted to hurt Carla?” James asked.
“Not a clue. Carla might have seemed a little mean girlish, but she didn’t make any real enemies.”
“What about Ben Adrian? Did he and Carla have any falling out after the incident?”
“She apologized.” Toni snapped. Her face got all red. “I’m sorry. But anyway she did apologize. They seemed on good terms after that. Really good terms.” She paused. “Well not too long after they had an argument. But it didn’t seem serious”
“Regarding what?” Corbin leaned forward.
“I was sleeping over at Carla’s house, and then Carla went downstairs for a while. I snuck downstairs to listen in and she and Ben were having an argument outside.”
“Do you have any idea what they were talking about?” James asked.
“Not a clue.” Toni said. “I didn’t catch the whole conversation, but I think Ben mentioned something like; we can’t keep this a secret anymore, it is not fair to Jaz, and Carla mentioned something about a sycamore tree. It was all very foggy.”
“When was this” Corbin asked.
“It was about two days before we left for Newport.” Toni replied
“Who is Jaz” James asked.
“Jasmine,” Toni said pointing her thumb at the door. “She is dating Ben.”
“Okay.” James stood up. “Thank you for your time.”