Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I have always hated being assigned these cases. With murder, you are handed a folder and, if there is nothing else certain, death is the given. You take the death and work backwards. The missing children cases are like having a huge suitcase full of hope plopped onto your desk. A suitcase that needs to be unzipped and all that hope scooped up and embraced, which you do, as a detective. But, after working a few, there is the inclination to close the eyes and clamp the jaw, at teeth-cracking pressure, while you gently slide that zipper. So often, more often than not, there is nothing but stale air inside, nothing but a big scoop of dead end and it springs out like a powerful jack-in-the-box. That is where you start, at a dead end, but with all the hope that there is still life in that dead end and work towards finding that life.

This particular dead end begins at a park. The entertainment industry has made case investigation look easy. In a movie or TV show there is something convenient, maybe a single, critical item that leads to a quick arrest, and always at the perfect time. Maybe a cigarette butt loaded with the perp’s DNA was flicked onto the parking lot, along with hundreds of others, but this butt is the butt. Perhaps a shoeprint from some oddball foreign sneaker is imprinted in medium density clay so it is near exact, and, of course, the sprinklers in the park just happened to be broken so the shoeprint was preserved, and that shoe is the only one like it in several states and somebody just happens to know who is wearing that oddball foreign shoe. Yeah, I have learned to hate how those detectives always get the suitcase that is brimming with leads and evidence and convenience. I understand it is fiction. It is entertainment and everything has to be wrapped up in an hour or two. The problem is that friends and family of the victims cannot always differentiate between real and pretend. I know, because I have had them in my face, or on the phone, telling me how it is done in Hollywood.     

Sure, we catch a break now and then, but the park was scoured and it was clean. No butts, no shoeprints, no empty drink cans in the trash to fingerprint, no witnesses, no trail for the dogs to sniff, no Hollywood convenience goodies half-hidden like Easter eggs. So, I go there, with my big scoop of dead end and hope to see if I can add to it. Nothing plus anything equals something! That is one of the signs in the coffee room at the station, hung there maybe twenty years ago, to give us another bushel of hope. Someone else, just to rib a rookie who puked at this first dead body scene posted another—S S S. It stands for Sick, Seasoned, Sick. But the joke is really true. The first cases make you physically sick. Then you toughen, get seasoned, until you have had enough and get sick and tired of the whole job.  That is when it is time to call it quits. I’m kind of there, at that third S, but I still have enough competitive edge left in me to stay, to outwit the scum that has attached itself to society.

No one is at the park, it is still cordoned off, but there are plenty of adults walking by on the other side of the street, plenty of kids on bikes and foot, also. Gawkers. Something else Hollywood has done is create an intense curiosity in the average citizen. I walk the perimeter, see nothing, feel nothing. I do my best to evaluate the whole scene as the perv would. I have been good at that my whole career, so good that I am nicknamed Pervis, a combination of Melvin Purvis and pervert. I don’t mind it. It’s a good thing.

I walk park a second time to take photos from all points, and something finally starts perking near a wood fence at the east end, a spot where the parking lot ends along the back side of the fence. From a physical perspective, it would be the best place to do a snatch, easy to get to a car, a little obscure and hidden. I walk around the fence, photograph the shit out of it, both sides. But on the park side I suddenly hear children, very faint. They are happy, almost excited, and they are asking where they are going. I look around, no kids, no other sounds, only those faint voices. I blink, scrunch my eyes tight a couple times. Then there is a low rumble of voice that is rough as dry corn husk. It tells the kids they will have a really fun time, that there will be some surprise treats. The voice is bass, as low as I have ever heard, the kind that tickles the eardrum. The kids giggle, the rough voice says to hurry and come on, so they don’t miss anything. Anything. Right. I take another glance around, both sides of the fence, into the low shrubbery at the left end of the fence, and still there is nothing, nothing but my sick and tired Pervis imagination.

At home, I pour a glass of Jack, take it, and the bottle, to my desk, where I download the photos, to have another quick study before supper. Photo after photo after photo, no AnythingNothing to give me Something. My finger is tired. Tired of clicking a shutter button, tired of clicking a mouse, tired of tapping on my steering wheel and desks, but only a few more pic to look at, so I tap the mouse, click fast to get finished. The last sip of Jack calls. It is bite on my tongue, I swish it around, swallow, feel a tepid flush in my throat.  Over the top of the glass I catch something in one of the last photos that flashed by. I put the glass down, click back and push my face to the monitor. What the… Shadows on the fence. Not just a shadow of me clicking away on the shutter button, but other shadows as well. Shadows from non-existent bodies. A large shadow and a couple little shadows.  Shadows from voices. I have been immune to gooosebumps and shivers for years, till now. I slowly pull back from the screen, still staring at the image, and  can think of nothing, other than refilling my glass, retirement and another banner in the coffee room. We will chase every lead, through the gates of Hell, if necessary! So, I pour and start downing in gulps, thinking, one way or another, how that particular banner may be correct.

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