The lights were a few blocks ahead but coming fast towards my location. I made a sharp left and drove up a hundred yards and parked quickly on the side of the street. I was behind an older white pickup truck with damage to its front right side. Putting the car in park and quickly shutting it off, I made sure my foot was off of the brake ensuring the entire car including the taillights went completely dark. A few moments later, three police cruisers streaked behind, their lights cutting through the night.
When faced with a crisis situation or threat for survival, everyone goes through a fight or flight response to make it through the potential harm. The body is programmed to prepare the nervous system for a self-preservation action. Either standing your ground and taking on the threat or fleeing from the peril. It’s one or the other. Never both.
I had fully embraced the flight response but that didn’t mean it was being done without thinking clearly. The car was out of direct view of the police officers who drove by. Therefore, their dashboard cameras would not capture Jane’s car fleeing the scene. Reviewing these recordings was one of the first tasks of any investigation. The officers watched for any escaping vehicles the cruiser may have passed on their way to the crime scene. I was in Jane’s car, which was helpful in the fact it would take them longer to trace back to me if it was identified.
I knew right away I had to leave soon but the escape needed to be done as inconspicuous as possible. Starting the car and peeling out would simply draw attention to the car and its occupant, exactly what was to be avoided at all costs. Grabbing the bag I had packed earlier, I quickly changed shoes and put on a pair of gloves to cover the blood on my hands.
No other police, fire or medical vehicles were coming into the neighborhood. Everything seemed quiet and normal for a Monday night in the city, except for the strobing lights of the police cruisers on the next block over. It was late in the day, but not deep in the night. A little after ten. Residents would still be awake preparing for the next day ahead, tired after a long Monday.
I stayed in the car, scrunched down in the driver’s seat trying to blend into the shadows. In the rearview mirrors, I could see people gathering on the corner watching the police officers following their standard procedure. They were curious about what was happening in their normally safe and secure neighborhood. It is hard not to worry about the impact on one’s own safety and sense of well-being.
Taking a bit of a risk but needing more information, I got out of the car and joined the gathering crowd. There were at least a dozen people on the corner and it was growing steadily by the minute.
I had on dark blue jeans and a grey jacket adding a generic baseball cap preserving my anonymity and making me instantly forgettable. People were speculating on what was happening. Maybe a heart attack or a robbery. Too many officers for something simple. Who lives there? Maybe it’s a domestic violence incident. I was keeping my mouth shut not about to provide any input on what really happened or to make myself the center of attention. The fact not one person on the corner knew who lived there was a good sign. This wasn’t one of those neighborhoods where everyone knew everybody else. Easier to blend in.
Someone must have called the police. They arrived quickly after Neil’s murder. It wasn’t a simple noise complaint from the loud movie being watched. You don’t send three police vehicles for a loud neighbor. Replaying the crime scene in my mind, I couldn’t think of anything during the attack that would cause a loud enough noise for someone to call the police. Namely a gunshot. Neil was hit over the head and then stabbed, both generally quiet events.
There may have been screaming involved but those wouldn’t have been any louder than the blaring movie which could only have been heard when I was close to the house. Doubtful a neighbor would have heard it with windows closed to keep out the cold night air. The only possibility left was a witness. There was no one on the street when I showed up or left the house, unless they were busy calling the police at that particular moment. With the events of the past few days, a nosy neighbor would just be my luck.
I watched the house and the police officers from the safe distance of the crowded corner. The police were going about their business on their own. Any neighbor who was curious about what was happening was watching from the safety of their own porch, front window, or a distant viewpoint far away from the house. This meant no one was actively talking to the police officers who arrived at the scene. It was a virtual certainty whoever called the police met them when they arrived with one major exception. When the caller didn’t want to be identified.
After a few minutes of watching, two additional vehicles drove by the corner and parked behind the cruisers. One was another police cruiser and the second was an unmarked fleet car. Two distinctively familiar shapes got out of the vehicle and walked up to the front of the house. One was tall and skinny, the other short and fat. The Thomson twins. It was now time to leave.
Working my way to the back of the every growing crowd of curious neighbors, I overheard an older man dressed in an all dark grey work uniform talking to a neighbor. He said he had to get going to work and to text if something interesting happened. Most likely the night shift at a local factory. I followed him at a safe distance away from the group since he was heading in the direction of where I was parked. As luck would have it for once in recent days, he got in the white pickup truck parked directly in front of me and drove away.
I watched from the safety of Jane’s car. He drove straight ahead out of the neighborhood without anyone appearing to take notice of him. The flight response was kicking in again and I decided it was now or never. I started the car and slowly pulled away from the curb. My head was on a swivel looking around for any potential threats like additional police or emergency vehicles, people watching me, or the inevitable news crews already likely in route.
Thankfully, I saw nothing. It was the first bit of good fortune in the past week. I stayed off of the main freeway in fear of any cameras documenting my presence and decided to stay on the side roads. I took Route 22/3 northeast out of the city and past the suburbs until I arrived at the small town of Morrow. Traffic was very light at this time of night, so the trip went smoothly.
From there I headed north relying on the GPS system to get me to Fort Ancient State Park above the shore of the Little Miami River. My destination was a handful of miles up the bike trail where I gathered my thoughts after I found out that Sarah Jacobs was murdered. I had been here a few times before taking pictures of the earthen mounds built by native Americans over fifteen hundred years ago. Every child in the area goes to the park as one of their first field trips in elementary school.
I parked in an out of the way spot on a side trail where I wouldn’t be found or disturbed until the next morning. A perfect spot to be alone. I simply needed some time to calm down and think about what just happened.
Neil Shelton had been murdered. The third person with a link to me and much closer to home than two loosely related individuals from my private investigative side business. Three murders all connected could not be coincidental. The laws of probability made it impossible and the odds were it had something to do with me.
Neil was my boss however you looked at it. A boss who had fired me about twelve hours earlier. I had shown up at his house after dark finding his recently murdered body. Not only had I disturbed the crime scene but also contaminated it. I also had not called the cops, fleeing the house just before they arrived.
The fact the police arrived in force very quickly after his murder and yet no one was outside talking to the officers when they arrived had me baffled and confused. The only explanation was whoever called didn’t want to be involved with the police investigation. That ruled out even the nosiest and reclusive of neighbors. If someone is being murdered next door or down the street, you get involved. Walnut Hills was way too nice of a neighborhood for a no snitching ideology. There was only one possible person left who could have made the call. The person who was responsible for Neil’s murder. Either the murderer or an accomplice. It was the only conclusion that fits.
Why, though? I had absolutely no idea. Why would you call the police after you were involved in a murder other than feeling guilty? Nothing about what was going on made any damn sense.
If all of the murders revolved around me somehow, who was next? The thought sent a sharp chill down my spine. Two of the three victims were related to my private investigative business. I needed to get a client list ready for the police. Someone on the list could be next.
Neil’s murder, however, changed the pattern of what was happening. I worked for him and generally knew him. Not well, but it was more than just a passing association. Was the person doing this escalating by moving towards those close to me? There were now only three people in my life I truly cared about. Bruno, Kelsey, and Jane. A sad existence for sure, but the truth. There were tons of acquaintances, almost too many to count, but few of what I would consider true friends.
I honestly wasn’t worried about Bruno. He could take care of himself. Kelsey and Jane were a different story. It was late now, well after midnight. I didn’t want to call at this late hour and scare them. With everything that had transpired, both were taking strong precautionary measures to protect themselves. Immediately informing them about what happened was unnecessary. I should do it in person for both of them. They deserved hearing it directly from me. I could explain what had happened to Neil and warn them to be extra careful. They would not sell me out to the police. I trusted them with my life.
I got out of the car and retrieved the bag with the bloody shoes and placed the gloves I had worn in with them. There was a towel in the back seat amongst all of the other items that littered Jane’s car. I used it with water from a nearby stream to wash all the blood off of my hands. It was extremely cold but it worked. My hands were finally clean. Everything was put back in the bag and thrown in the trunk out of the way.
I headed back to my house and office for a change of clothes and to grab a listing of all my clients. I took all side roads just in case the police were out looking for me.
I longed for a few hours of sleep would be advantageous but I doubt it was possible, even if I tried.