It was around 9PM and everyone had already gone home for the night hours ago. She was vigorously investigating the Matthews case and had found some leads. Natalie had sent the images from the street cameras at the crime scene to the forensics department to get them digitally enhanced. Maybe if the image was sharper, she could make out better details and get some headway on the case.
It had been a month since she was placed on this case, and with this she finally felt like this was going to be a break the case needed. The tech experts in forensics finally sent her the enhanced images to her email about two hours ago, and she had been sitting at her desk scrutinizing them ever since. She squinted at the enhanced photos and could slightly make out a figure in the drivers eat. She threw the photos down and grunted in frustration. At most, she could identify that there was in fact a driver in the car, but the area around the crime scene was poorly lit and the angle of the camera only allowed for so much to be seen.
Natalie rolled her neck and focused back on the photos. She noticed that the truck was a Ford pick up and the last three numbers of the truck’s license plate could be just barely made out. 799. It could take her another month or two, but if she searched the police database for a pick-up truck with the last three digits of the license plate as 799, she knew she could find some leads.
A sharp standard cellphone ringtone cut the silence. After four rings, she finally obliged and answered her cell before the caller hung up.
“Natalie, are you free right now?” It was Jared and he sounded a little weird.
“Yeah, kind of, what’s up? Is something wrong?”
“No, I…” She could hear the hesitation on the other side.
“Just tell me. I told you to call me if you needed anything.” She continued to scrutinize the images. “Besides, I have some new information on the case.”
“Oh, really? Then, I was calling to ask if you would like to do something spontaneous?”
Natalie finally stopped looking at the images and focused on the conversation. Spontaneous? What in the world could Jared Matthews want to do at this time of night? Even though she trusted him as an old friend, the common sense instilled in her from her profession told her to be street smart. “Something spontaneous?”
Natalie turned into the parking lot for the boardwalk, her loud Volkswagen engine the only foreign sound along the coastline. After locking the images in the evidence room back at the station, Natalie had made her way over to the Crestview beach like Jared had suggested. She checked her reflection in the mirror and poked at the dark circles underneath her eyes. Too many all-nighters. Throwing a sigh at her reflection, she got out of her bug and slammed the door behind her. Without a little force the door wouldn’t have shut.
Natalie leaned against her car and noted the empty parking lot. If he didn’t come in the next five minutes she would leave. The waves of the ocean gently caressed the sandy beach as the crescent moon reflected against the water. She hadn’t been to the beach in years—since before her parent’s divorced. Before she could reminisce any further, Jared’s red sports car pulled into the parking lot and parked in a space over from Natalie’s car.
Natalie greeted Jared with a nod and leaned off of her car. He suddenly chuckled, “Really?” He was reacting to Natalie’s glock on her hip. She shrugged, “the cop in me tells me to be street smart. How do I know you’re not luring me here to kill me? Besides,” she said between a laugh, “someone may be trying to kill you, so I think maybe you should be actually thanking me.” There was a split second of silence before the two laughed in unison.
On the beach, Natalie stood staring out into the ocean while Jared planted himself in the sand beside her. Without breaking her gaze, she said, “what’s the occasion?”
Jared, eyes locked on the ocean as well, replied, “I wanted to get away. That’s all.”
Natalie finally looked at Jared—really looked at him. On the outside, he seemed to be what everyone pegged him to be, and surely he was, but Jared Matthews was more than that. Looking at him now, she saw the little boy next door with those wild green eyes. Looking at those eyes now, they were almost the same with a childlike fire that she knew, but this time mixed in with something else. He looked up at her and the two locked eyes. That something else disappeared.
Natalie finally sat down on the sand beside him. The gritty, cold grains peppered her hands and feet as she flopped down beside him. “So…what about your niece? You know school’s about to start soon.” Natalie was looking out into the ocean again, studying the calm waves. The cool breeze whipped in between them as if they were two mountain peaks miles away. Jared sighed, looking down into the sand beneath him, grabbing a handful of it and squishing it into his fist. “It starts next month, but… You know, I never really wanted to have a family. I don’t—or at least didn’t—have plans to keep her with me. I was going to let her stay with my mother, but I know Greg wouldn’t have wanted that. He would have put her in the care of my mother if he did. I just don’t understand what he wanted out of this—what he wanted from me by doing this?”
Natalie turned slightly in contemplation as Jared threw the handful of sand that he had collected and squished in his fist to the side. He sighed, “This is not what I wanted for me.”
She sighed and slightly changed the subject. “About the case, I wasn’t joking about someone wanting to kill you. Evidence suggests that this definitely wasn’t an accident. We were able to find some leads in regards to the pickup, but I won’t have any leads from that until maybe the end of the month. Jared was silent for the next two minutes, eyes locked on the sand again. The wheels were visibly turning inside his head.
He suddenly stood up and screamed. The sound carried out over the beach and competed with the sound of the waves. Natalie stood up suddenly as well, awkwardly watching him with no clue how to comfort him. “Jared?” Both of his fists were balled up at his sides, as if he was battling the world. He turned around and there he was again, like a child knocked down. Vulnerable. “Jared—,” Natalie took a step towards him with her hand outstretched. He stepped towards her before looking past her and walking by. Natalie stood on the beach with her hand outstretched to no one as the sound of Jared’s car starting up and driving off whirled around her in the breeze.
Natalie sighed and dropped both hands by her side. In that split second, the green-eyed boy she knew disappeared back to the Jared Matthews he had become. Her phone beeped three times at her side.
Something came up.
Natalie starred at the text that Jared had sent and chuckled to herself.
–A Month Later-
Natalie leaned back in her office chair and sighed. The sun was setting and she felt as if she hadn’t gotten any work done all day. Knock Knock. Natalie swiveled her chair around to the door and stood up. Joe was standing at her door with a manila envelope in his hand. “The results from the plate-check, but we’ve got a problem.”
Natalie sat back in her chair and leaned forward on her desk, running her hands down her face. “The verdict?”
Joe sat down in the chair in front of her desk and put the opened folder on her desk. “Vehicle’s reported as stolen. I’ve already talked to the registered owner and he says he reported the vehicle stolen about a week before the incident. The owner’s located in the town over, out of our jurisdiction, so I had to coordinate with the local police in that area to get the info.” Natalie stood up and turned to the window behind her in frustration. She crossed her arms with a sigh. “So it’s a dead end?”
Joe was silent for a moment, “Not yet. Apparently, the owner had video surveillance installed in the driveway of his house since he lives in a seedy part of that town. The other precinct was able to obtain the image of the perp who stole the car. Apparently it’s some teen from the local half-way house. In order to assist on the interrogation, we’ve got to obtain permission from the chief over there.” Natalie turned around, “I’ll go debrief the chief. You work on getting that permission.” Joe closed the folder on her desk and stood up, “got it.”
“Knock Knock,” Natalie knocked on the chief’s door frame. He was starring at his computer intently while sipping on a cup of coffee. She sat down on the couch in his office and placed the manila folder on the coffee table.
“What da-ya got for me?”
“The Matthews’ Case. We’ve got a lead, but it involves another precinct a town over. Seems like that pick-up was stolen by some local kid. I want to assist on the interrogation there. Joe’s working on getting in contact with the Chief over there.”
“The town over? Elizabeth City? I know the chief over there. Tell Joe not to bother, I’ve gotta catch up with that jerk anyway so I’ll do the leg-work for that.”
Natalie stood up with the folder in hand.
“Allen. Make plans to go there tomorrow. We’ve gotta wrap this case up before those gossip magazines get a whif of this. It makes a good story to know that one of this city’s own elite was murdered. Sounds like a damn Lifetime movie.”
“Got it.” As soon as she moved to leave, Natalie’s cellphone that was tucked away in her pocket began to vibrate. As she closed the door to the Chief’s office, he was already on the phone with who she could only assume was the other precinct’s Chief Sergeant.
Back in her own office, Natalie shut the door behind her and answered the call. It was her mother.
“Mom?” There was some background noise on the other side—probably the TV.
“Natalie,” he mother’s voice sounded strained, “Your father is here.”
A roar similar to that of a monster wave engulfed her ears followed by a slight ringing and the wild and erratic bumping of her heart in her chest. “What is he doing there,” she tried to keep her voice low but she was already screaming insider her head.
“Natalie. Just talk to him. Your brother is already here.” Natalie could hear her nephew in the background now. “What a cool present grandpa!” She could only scoff at that. Of course, he would show up to save the day—and bring presents to help him do it!
Natalie looked at the stack of unfinished cases on her desk. She would much rather be doing those than seeing some man who likes to call himself her father. “I’ll be over there in an hour. I have some work to do.” She could hear her mother sigh on the other end.
“Just let me know when you’re on your way.”
An hour later and Natalie placed five folders in her ‘out’ box. The cases were petty theft and possession cases, so she just had to start the paperwork for the courts and get the Chief to look over and approve them. On her way out, she said a goodbye to the Chief and Joe, the only two who were left in the office, and walked out to the precincts parking lot across from building.
The night air was cool with a hint of rain. Fall was just around the corner, summer pretty much over. The moon overlooked her as she crossed the parking lot to her beat-up, black punch-buggy. Shutting the door behind her, she jammed her key in the ignition and started the car up. It sputtered to life after a few seconds and quieted down with a hum. Pulling out of the parking lot, Natalie glanced at the LCD clock on her dash, 8:30PM. She definitely was going to hear it from her mother; she would be an hour late, and Natalie knew that the tension in that house could be cut with a knife.
Pulling up to her mother’s house, all the lights seemed to be on. The house was almost inviting her in even though she knew she wanted no part of what was about to happen. There was a black sedan in the driveway and Drew’s red pickup was parked in front. She pulled up behind his truck and shut the car off. Take a deep breath. Like a zombie, Natalie walked up the flower-lined walkway and prepared herself for what was to come. She tightened her hands into fists at her side before using her right fist to knock twice on the front door. She could see a figure walk up to the door through the glass windows that lined it—a figure that she knew wasn’t her mother.
The door opened to reveal her father, Theo Allen, standing in front of her. He smiled and opened his arms to hug her. Natalie was stiff as a board and made no motion to return his motion. Her father dropped his arms by his side in defeat and offered a smile instead. “Natalie, honey. You’ve grown so big. Please come in and get out of the cold!”
Natalie pushed past her father, feeling the anger well up inside her chest. Why the hell was he the one answering the door as if he owned the house! That behavior was typical of her father since he abandoned them almost fifteen years ago. He would disappear and roughly every five years, he would send a Christmas present. Only once did he visit her and her brother when they were children, and and that time, they were still young and thought he could do no wrong. Well, things have changed.
Natalie walked into the living room where she could hear the TV and her nephew making vroom noises. As she rounded the corner she was met with the site of her brother and his wife snuggled up on the couch watching TV. The site of them acting like everything was normal made her even angrier. Her brother stood up to hug her. As they drew in for a hug, Drew whispered, “Don’t be angry. You know he’ll be M.I.A again by tomorrow morning.”
Natalie hugged her brother tightly, trying hard to believe him. Her mother came from the kitchen, taking off her trademark apron from around her waist as she did so.
“Natalie, you’re finally here.” She could hear the snark in her mother’s voice. The two siblings finished their embrace and Natalie went to hug her mother. She hugged her tightly, allowing the sent of something sweet on her mother’s clothes to fill her senses and calm her down.
“Mmm, you backed pie again,” She asked as she pulled out of the embrace.
“Of course! I told you, if I win this upcoming baking competition, I’m opening up my own bakery! It’s better to be busy then spend my retirement like a typical senior citizen. Your mom’s still in her 50s, you know.”
The two shared a laugh before Natalie noticed her father was back in the room. He was leaning against the archway to the living room with a huge smirk on his face.
“You know, in all these years, I think I’ve missed your baking the most, Anita. Of course, my kids were always in my heart—that goes without saying.” It was as if he heard what Natalie was thinking. He swept his arms out in a grand motion to indicate Brian. “And now, even better, I’m a grandfather!” Natalie could only cross her arms in response while Drew chuckled. “I need to catch up with you two!”
Anita walked back to the kitchen, looking over her shoulder to tell the three of them to catch up in the dining room. Natalie could see Drew lock eyes with his wife—surely communicating in just one look. His wife, Nina, stood up.
“Ok Brian, it’s getting late. Your father needs to catch up with Grandpa, but you need to go to sleep since you have school tomorrow.” Nina walked Brian up the stairs. The three left in the living room could here Brian exclaim an “aw man, can I see Grandpa tomorrow?”
Fifteen minutes later and the three sat in the dining room. Drew at the head of the table and Natalie and Theo sitting across from each other. It was fitting since at the moment, Drew was being much more sensible than her about this. Nina came and kissed Drew on the cheek, “Brian’s fast asleep in the guest room. I’ll be in the kitchen with your mother.” Drew put his hand on his wife’s and smiled up at her before she disappeared into the kitchen.
Theo was first to break the silence, “Drew, I’m so proud of you. You have a beautiful wife and child. You followed your mother’s footsteps and became a teacher—,” he turned to Natalie, “I’m proud of both of you. Natalie, I heard you’re the lead detective for Boulder Heights. A city cop! It suits you so well.” He smiled warmly at her but Natalie couldn’t return the favor.
“Are you going to explain to your grandson the way this usually works? You leave and every five years, you send an expensive Christmas gift. Once in a blue moon—like today—you swoop in to ‘save the day’ as if you were around the whole time.”
Theo stuttered. “N-Now Natalie. I know I haven’t been the greatest father. When me and your mother divorced, I was young, just starting out my archeology career, and wanted to make a name out there for myself. Unfortunately, I put success before my family. I regret it everyday. I sent those gifts every five years knowing that it wouldn’t make up for my absence.”
Natalie pushed back from the table and walked to the unlit fireplace at the other end of the room. She had to get away from sitting right in front of him and his excuses. “Those are excuses,” she spat over her shoulder.
“I know they are. But I can’t turn back time, and you hating me for it can’t do that either. I’m not asking you to forgive me, but just give this old man a chance to be a father again—to be a grandfather.” She could hear Drew clear his throat.
“Dad…I think Brian would love to see you more.” Dad? The anger Natalie kept pushing down was about to burst.
“I know, I know. I rented an apartment in the city and even have one of those new-fangled smartphones. Your mother gave me both of your numbers. I even have you two’s baby pictures saved as my home screen,” Theo laughed at the thought, producing his cellphone from his pocket to show Drew.
Natalie spun around on her heels, looking at the scene in front of her. Theo was smiling widely and showing his phone proudly. “You think having our baby pictures on a cellphone can make up for it? To make us feels as if you cared enough to think about us all these years. Drew may believe that, but I won’t!” Natalie walked past the two of them and into the kitchen.
Her mother and Nina were sitting at the kitchen table sipping what was probably hot tea. Both women stood up at the sight of Natalie. She went to hug her mother.
“Natalie, baby, you can’t be so angry anymore!” Her mother whispered furiously at her. Natalie could hear the chairs in the dining room scoot back. “Mom, I’ve gotta go. I’m going out of town tomorrow for work.” Her mother sighed and kissed her on the cheek. Natalie quickly hugged Nina and told her to kiss Brian for her.
She was already at the door before Drew grabbed her by the arm. She turned around, almost ready to swing. “Nat, don’t drive angry. Ok?”
She could hear the concern in his voice and her demeanor softened. Hugging him, she said “I’ll text you when I get home.” Over Drew’s shoulder, she could see her father rounding the corner into the hallway. She quickly walked out the door and cut across the lawn to jump in her car.
Natalie drove off into the night, trying not to drive angry as her brother instructed. Her father stood outside on the porch until her back lights disappeared into the darkness of night.