I was engulfed in absolute hysteria by the time the Orange Beach Police Department’s finest made it to where I was standing, pointing ineffectually and babbling at the dead girl’s body through body-wracking horrified sobs.
One officer walked up to me, and the other began examining the girl’s body.
“Ma’am, I’m Officer Dalton with the Orange Beach Police Department. Can you try to catch your breath and tell me your name and what happened here, please?”
I nodded with a wordless, shuddering gasp. “Y-yes,” I stammered around a violent hiccup. “I’m Lexie Murphy. My family owns the beach house next door.” I pointed up at our back deck and shrugged. “I was out on my front porch, next door, talking to my best friend on the phone when I heard some funky noises coming from over here.”
“Funky noises?” The cop raised an eyebrow at me in question.
“Yeah, like grunting and panting. So, I decided to get a look at what was going on over here because I don’t like this neighbor. He’s set our yard on fire a couple of times and had a cement truck drive through it. It rutted our yard up something terrible.”
“Okay…?” Officer Dalton prompted, his sarcastic tone making it obvious that he didn’t think that information was relevant.
“So, I wanted to be nosy, thinking maybe I’d catch this neighbor in the act of doing some kind of stupid crap. My best friend was fishing across the street, and I told him to meet me so I wouldn’t be nosing around all by myself. He met me downstairs, and we went up on the back porch so we could get a clean look down into the yard.”
“Then what happened?”
“I was really embarrassed, at first, because I thought the neighbor and his wife were getting freaky out on the patio to spice up their sex life, but then I noticed that the guy had the wrong color hair.”
“Wrong color hair?”
“Yeah. Our neighbor has black hair, and this guy was a blond. It wasn’t our neighbor at all. Rick, that’s my best friend that I told you about, said we should probably mind our own business, but I couldn’t seem to look away, and that’s when I noticed that she was unresponsive.”
The cop’s expression turned from skepticism to horror when I pointed at the dead girl.
“You’re telling me you think you may have witnessed an act of necrophilia?”
I gagged and clapped a hand over my mouth at the utterance of the word as if that somehow made the whole situation more real. “Look, I don’t know what the hell I witnessed, to be completely honest with you. All I know is I saw this buff blond guy humping this girl, and she wasn’t moving at all, and it really upset me. So, I made Rick call you guys and tell you what we saw while I snuck down to the fence so I could get a better look at the guy in case we had to make a statement to y’all.”
“And where is this friend of yours, Rick, now?”
“Rick is chasing the guy. Jesus, I really hope he catches him, but even if he does, I don’t know how he’s going to get the guy back here.”
“Ma’am, do you realize just how dangerous this whole situation could have been for you and your friend? What if the alleged suspect had had a weapon? You or your friend could have been shot because you felt like being nosy.”
Suddenly, I was feeling really defensive. “So, what, you’re telling me I shouldn’t have tried to help what I thought was an unconscious woman who was being sexually assaulted?”
“That’s not what I’m saying at all, Miss Murphy. I’m just saying you could have stayed safe and sound up on your porch and called this incident in without endangering yourself and your best friend in the process.”
“And then I wouldn’t have gotten a good look at the guy,” I snapped, feeling very peevish that the cops weren’t appreciating my initiative.
Officer Dalton nodded and sighed, realizing that questioning my logic probably wasn’t going to help his investigation much. Just as he was about to continue his line of questioning, Rick jogged back into the yard, pouring sweat and panting like an overheated dog.
“Rick! Did you get him?” I called, hoping he was dragging the perp behind him like a sack of potatoes.
“No,” Rick wheezed, walking up to where the officer and I were standing. He lifted a torn t-shirt into our field of view. “The guy must be a cross-country runner or something. I was able to sprint and get a fistful of his shirt, but he wiggled out of it, and I chased the guy for blocks before I finally gave up. He had all kinds of stamina, and I’m fast, but I’m not that fast for that long.”
Officer Dalton motioned for his partner, who was already wearing a pair of gloves, to take the stretched and tattered piece of cloth from Rick.
“We’ll be needing fingerprints from both of you since your nosiness led you to contaminate both the crime scene and potential evidence belonging to the alleged perp.”
Rick and I both nodded, and I left my head hanging because Officer Dalton’s tone was so harsh. “We were just trying to help.” My voice broke, and I found myself crying again.
“I know that Miss Murphy, but this isn’t a young adult detective novel or something. A couple of kids can’t just break this case in a single night. You should leave the investigating to the professionals from now on, for your safety and your friend’s.”
By the time Officer Dalton was done getting our statements, fingerprints, and DNA samples, both my family and Rick’s were awake and waiting for an explanation together.
“Explain yourselves,” my mother, Elizabeth Murphy, commanded in her most terrifyingly calm English teacher voice.
I stepped in front of Rick, willing to take all of the blame for the situation I’d gotten us into, and not wanting my parents to be mad at my favorite person in the whole world.
“The whole thing is my fault,” I asserted, locking eyes with mom so she wouldn’t glare at Rick. “I couldn’t sleep, and I figured Rick was up fishing, so I went out onto the front deck to call him so my voice wouldn’t wake anybody. I heard weird noises next door, and next thing you know we’re both on the back porch, and we see a guy raping a corpse on the neighbor’s patio. So, I made Rick call the cops, and I snuck down to the fence to gather evidence.”
My mother’s gold-flecked-green eyes, so much like mine, were boring into my soul with the kind of quiet rage only mothers can know, until the words “raping a corpse” escaped my mouth. At that, she paled and swayed on her feet.
“Good God,” she breathed, her nostrils flaring with disgust as a green ring formed around her pink lips, a surefire indicator that she was nauseated. “Are you absolutely sure that you saw what you just said you saw, Lexie?”
I nodded. “I’m sure. I touched her arm when I was trying to wake her up, Mom. She was meat-locker cold in the middle of an 80-degree July night. I’m positive she was dead the whole time that he was…you-know-what-ing her.”
My mom grabbed Rick’s mom, Joyce’s, hand and squeezed it so hard I thought both their hands would break. At that moment, Rick nudged me aside and stepped forward. “Lexie isn’t the only one at fault, here,” he insisted. “I shouldn’t have been enabling her.”
“No, you damn well should not have,” Joyce snapped, shaking her head. “I don’t know how you two do it, but you’re always getting each other into the craziest shit!”
“Between the two of you, you’re going to give us all heart attacks!” That was from my father, Frank Murphy, and he sounded more pissed off than anybody had yet.
My father getting angry with me has always been an immediate crying trigger for me. I was sobbing before I could stop myself, and Rick’s expression at the sound of me crying was one of pure panic. He grabbed my hand and gave it a gentle, insistent squeeze, silently begging for me to stop crying.
“We both made some mistakes tonight, and we’re sorry for scaring you,” Rick said, “But Lexie’s drive to be nosy, and her ability to drag me into just about anything, probably stopped that guy from disposing of the girl’s body. She might never have been found if it weren’t for us, so there’s at least a little good that came out of this terrible situation.”
Our mothers simultaneously retched and clapped their hands over their mouths to suppress the urge to throw up. Lamar, Rick’s dad, cleared his throat and spoke up. “I think that we’ve all been traumatized plenty for one night. Why don’t we all try to get some sleep, and we’ll regroup and continue this discussion when we’re not all sleep deprived?”
All the adults nodded in unison; Rick gave me a reassuring hug, and we retreated to our separate but right-next-door beach houses to try to catch some shuteye in the wake of the night’s strange events.
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