It could have been a siren chirp or the murmurs through the window that woke Mike from his slumber. He slowly pulled down the sheets off the bed and listened intently, just to confirm he hadn’t been dreaming. He sat up straight on the bed and gazed at the shimmering colors reflecting off the bedroom curtains. There was definitely something going on out front.
Mike glanced around at the empty bedroom and had almost forgotten Mara was out of town. He walked over to the view of the street below him. The cop car flashes were instantly recognizable, however for the neighborhood of Bellwood, these embers of red and blue were frankly disturbing. In the 15 years Mike had lived there he had never seen a police car on Westhill Drive.
Sure enough there was commotion below, a black-and-white police SUV blocking the middle of the street. Everyone was in front of their homes, and why wouldn’t they be? When was the last time there was something exciting going on in this neighborhood, especially at three in the morning?
Mike tossed on a sweatshirt and made his way to the stairway. He looked down the hall to Piper’s room and thought of waking her but decided to find out what the situation was first. After all, she had Stella over for a sleepover and they had probably been up past midnight.
Mike pounced down the stairs and through the front door. Now he had a full view of the entire street and it looked like the block party from last summer. All the neighbors were out and standing behind the police car, including random representatives of the Jackson, Thomas, and Clayden households. Next door to Mike’s house was the Coleman’s, another picture-perfect Cape Cod-style home with blue shingles on the windows. The only difference really between their home and Mike’s was there was another police car parked in their driveway.
“Wendy,” Mike whispered.
Mike ran through his front yard and stopped in the middle of the street as flashlights shined silhouettes through the Coleman’s darkened front windows. Mike turned to his right at Russ Young, Steve Jackson and Abby Clayden standing next to the police SUV. An officer was standing in front of the hood talking into his shoulder microphone.
Mike marched up to the neighbors and pointed at the SUV. “What’s going on?” After receiving a few shrugs as answers Mike turned to the cop, who couldn’t have been older than the t-shirt he was wearing.
“Sir, please stay behind the car until we have the situation under control.”
Mike motioned towards the house. “Situation?” he spit. “What situation? That’s my neighbor.”
The policeman was not impressed and spoke code into his walkie-talkie as he gestured Mike behind the car. Russ took Mike by the shoulder and waved the cop off. Russ was as big as a football lineman with a surfer haircut, not the normal look for the EVP of a public software company. “Calm down, Mike,” Russ whispered. “We’ve got front row seats to see an actual domestic disturbance in progress.”
“You think that’s what’s going on?” Abby wondered as she texted away on her phone. “I’m giving the kids updates.” Abby was in her robe and slippers, her curly blonde hair obviously teased up before she dared step foot out of her house.
Mike leaned on the trunk. “How long you guys been here?”
Steve, who looked like a middle-aged Goofy in height and appearance, didn’t look away from the house. “Five minutes or so. I was up and heard the cop radio from next door. They must blast that shit when they leave the car.”
Russ looked Abby over. “Craving attention?”
Abby, as usual, ignored Russ completely. “You think Brad finally hit Wendy?”
“Maybe,” Russ shrugged.
Mike peered hard at the house and listened intently as he tried to discern something from the cop’s conversation into his shoulder. “Can’t be. Brad’s out of town.”
Steve pointed to the Tesla in front of the house. “Isn’t that his car?”
Mike frowned. “He told us he was in Seattle for the weekend. I’ve got Stella at my house tonight.”
“Was Wendy home?”
Mike could barely hold back the confusion and panic surging up his spine. “As far as I know,” he muttered.
Mike turned and saw Piper and Stella slowly walk up to the SUV. Piper was fourteen going on twenty, and Stella was fourteen going on twelve. They had obviously hit puberty at different times. Piper was five-seven with long brown hair and full build, too close to looking like a college student for Mike’s taste. Stella was on the shorter side and thin, with black hair and green eyes. One day she was going to be a looker, but she had certainly hit the awkward stage of adolescence.
Piper came right up to the group, but Stella stopped in the street and started slowly creeping towards her house. “Mom?” she said, almost pleading.
Mike ran up and pulled her close. “Stella, hold on, kiddo.”
The policeman pulled away from his perch against the hood. “Miss, you’re a resident of this house?”
Mike answered for the troubled teen. “Yes, this is Stella Coleman. She was staying with us tonight.”
“Stay here, okay? We’ll need to speak with you.”
Stella was almost crying. “What is going on?”
“There’s a situation inside your house.”
Another two cars rolled down the street and blocked the other end of the street. Two men exited one car, walked to the trunk almost in unison, and reached in. They pulled out large duffel bags, put plastic gloves on, and start to walk up the Coleman’s front porch.
A fat Hispanic man and a thin black woman stepped out of the second car and approached the police SUV. “I’m Detective Chavez,” the man said as he shook the policeman’s hand. “This is Detective Givens. Where we at?”
The policeman motions for the two detectives to move away from the crowd of suburbanites looming behind them. They stepped back a few feet and he appeared to divulge the details, including gesturing at the house and back at Stella. The detectives nodded and Givens glanced at the girl grasping onto Mike’s arm for dear life. Chavez walked towards the house as Givens approached Stella.
“Hi there,” Detective Givens said, with as soft a voice as could come from someone who looked like she had seen too much in her forty years. “I’m Detective Givens. You live in that house there?”
Stella’s grip on Mike’s arm started to tighten. Mike slid her under it. The detective noticed this and looked Mike in the eyes.
“This is Stella Coleman and she does live there,” Mike said. “I’m her best friend’s dad. I live next door. Stella was with us tonight for a sleepover. She doesn’t know what’s going on.”
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Givens said, almost sighing as she stared at the grip the girl had.
Mike nodded and placed Stella’s grip on his daughter before moving with Detective Givens to the Coleman’s front yard. The front door was wide open and Mike could see commotion inside, making out four or five people walking back and forth. The living room light was now on. There were a few shouts from inside but Mike couldn’t decipher what was being said.
“So, you know the Colemans?” Givens asked.
Mike tried to give Givens his attention as he continued to peer into the house. “I’m Mike Thomas. I live in the house next door.”
“You said that already.”
“Sorry. What’s going on?”
“Do you know the Colemans?”
Mike shrugged. “They’ve been my neighbors for as long as they’ve lived here.”
“How long is that?”
“Eight years, I guess. Maybe ten or so. My kid is her best friend.”
“You’ve said that already.”
“What the hell is going on? Did Brad beat her up or something?”
Givens looked behind her at the door and positioned Mike so his view was blocked. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but there’s been an incident here tonight. Someone’s been murdered.”
Mike stepped back. “Who?”
As if on cue, two policemen push a brooding, middle-aged man with dark blond hair and broad shoulders through the door. Unlike the rest of the neighbors, he wasn’t in his pajamas, instead dressed in jeans and a button-up shirt stained with blood. And unlike the rest of the neighbors, Brad Coleman was yelling and struggling as he was led in handcuffs to the police car in the driveway.
“Dad?!” Stella screamed as he thrashed across the front yard.
Brad and Mike caught eyes as he was being shoved into the backseat. There was fury and fire in them Mike didn’t recognize. Brad continued to stare coldly at Mike as the car backed up and drove off into the night.
Jesus Christ, Mike realized. Brad murdered Wendy.