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The Paths We Take #12: The Witness

May 1, 2018






Detective Townsend


Molly was late. We had agreed to meet, 7:00 AM, at the Adams Library on campus. I sat at a small rectangular table on the second level that overlooked the front half of the first floor. From where I was sitting, I could see anyone coming up the modern half-turn staircase that was situated in the center of the library. I thumbed through the pages of How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, that I snagged from the display in the nearby business section, a poorly executed ruse to appear to fit in.

The place was eerily quiet, even for a library. Most of the students were still passed-out on narrow beds in their suffocating dorm rooms. I heard whispers of slow footsteps on the stairwell and then Molly’s pecan hair, pulled tight into a ponytail, emerged. The redness that clouded her eyes the day before had disappeared, and she looked younger in her black and pink striped sweater and black leggings. Several strands of hair fell loose and hung down by her ear.

She sat down across from me. I noticed that she was wearing a metal bracelet with three pink lines that snaked around the band. “It was from my mom,” she said as she caught me admiring it. “She passed away last year… cancer.”

I had forgotten that Molly was just a kid. I was never good at consoling people. Victims would blink as they wiped the tears from their eyes, begging me to say something, their eyes screaming, “Tell me what to do.”

“What do you know about the kidnapping?” I asked as I moved the conversation along.

“The girl that was taken from that store, I think I saw the van.” She described watching a black van speeding down Market Street. She said the van looked brand new or freshly painted, sleek, with black rims. She also described a green truck that was following behind. “I didn’t think anything about it until I heard my roommate talking with her boyfriend on the phone last night about how some chick was kidnapped by some guys in a van.”

“Where were you when you saw this?” I asked, wondering how Red Pines became even smaller overnight.

“I passed out in the back seat of my friend’s car in the parking lot of Dale’s Auto just down the street. I woke up a few minutes before that to pee, and when I got back into the car, I heard the engine, and then I saw them go by,” Molly explained.

I asked her if she remembered any part of a license plate number, or if is she saw anything else, but she hadn’t been able to see the plate in the dim light.

“Do you think you can help me out with the marijuana charge now?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’ll see what I can do,” I said. “Thanks for sharing this with me, but I need you to keep quiet about this.”

Molly gave me a half smile and told me she would. She stood up and told me she had to get ready for her 9:00 AM class. I told her that I would talk with the ADA and reminded her that I still wanted more information on “Kyle.” She glowered at me and said “okay” while bobbing her head, like a middle-schooler made to give an obligatory hug to her mother in the carpool lane.

Luke had answered on the third ring; his voice was raspy, and he stammered as if he were disoriented. He agreed to meet me at the Riverview Diner across the river at 9:00 AM. When I got there, Luke was sitting at a booth in the back. The dark shadows under his eyes made him look ghostly as he hunched over his coffee. He glanced up as I sat down across from him. The place was half-full, mostly filled with retired folks and disheveled just-rolled-out-of-bed college students. The scent of bacon and sweet maple syrup filled the air, and classic rock played low over the makeshift surround-sound speakers that were sitting on shelves in the corners.

“What did you do after I left?” I asked while the mid-forties waitress with the name-tag that read “Kay” pinned to her sweater handed me a menu.

“I went bowling,” Luke answered. “What does it matter. It’s not important. Why am I here?”

I contemplated not telling Luke what Molly had seen, and letting things play out, but he needed to know. Kay came back to get my order, and Luke stared out the window the river.

“I have a witness,” I said. “She saw the van.”


“On Market Street, just down from Nancy’s. She saw your truck too,” I said as Kay sat my coffee down in front of me.

“Yes, that’s a good thing. What did Marks say?” he asked with a new fervor in his voice.

“I didn’t tell him yet,” I said as I took a sip of the coffee. “He is convinced that you’re full of shit.”

“This ought to shut him up. We have a witness who saw the van,” Luke beamed as he shoveled a silver-dollar pancake into his mouth. “He will have to do something now,” he said before chasing the pancakes down with a glass of orange juice.

“I’m not going to tell Marks,” I responded. The smile disappeared from Luke’s face. I didn’t want to tell Marks, not yet. I wanted more before letting him know that I was inserting myself further into the investigation.

“You better tell him. My reputation…”

“I don’t trust him,” I interrupted. “He is far too cavalier about the whole thing. I want to get some more information before I bring this to him. Something that he can’t just brush off.”

Luke rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands as he made circles on his temples. He stopped and took a long sip of his coffee. “I don’t understand how this is better for me or for Claire,” he muttered.

“I think there is more to this. I believe that Claire is not the first victim here; I think that it is just the first time where someone witnessed it,” I told him. “When I was in Special Investigations, I remember two girls disappeared, I mean just vanished, and no one ever really reported them missing outside of their roommates. No parents, grandparents, no one related to the girls ever filed a report. Both were Covington girls, and they both allegedly worked at The Doll House.”

“Did they ever turn up?” Luke asked me, the skin under his eyes was now a deep red from rubbing them.

“Not yet. A report was taken, and they were entered into NCIC as missing persons, but when I did get ahold of the parents, they just said that it was typical for their daughters to run away, probably with some strung-out junkies or sugar-daddies. Both sets of parents didn’t even want to come to Red Pines to get their belongings.”

Luke started to say something but stopped as Det. Marks appeared and sat down at the table beside us. “Good morning gentleman,” Marks announced, glaring at me. “Luke, you look like shit. Must have been a long night.”

“Nope,” Luke muttered as he looked away. The sun was hitting the water just right, causing the ripples to throw bursts of white and gold back at the heavens and through the glass windows of the diner.

“Gavin, you explain to Luke that it isn’t wise to make a scene at the bowling alley the same day he is accused of armed robbery?” Marks asked me.

I didn’t know what he was talking about. Luke’s gaze was still directed at the river. “No, didn’t realize that was something that needed to be explained,” I replied.

“It doesn’t. I think Luke understands,” Marks growled as he stirred cream and two packets of sugar into his coffee. Before I could say anything else, Luke stood up. He put his coat on, the whole time staring at Marks like he wanted to knock the coffee out of his hand.

Luke walked out of the diner and got into his truck. He paused for a moment in his truck before backing out of his space and driving away. I knew he wouldn’t just let this go.

“He is hiding something,” Marks said as Luke drove away. “He was harassing Nancy last night at Wolf Creek. Threw a damn bowling ball, and he tried to pick a fight with some Covington kids.”

I knew Luke was in a fragile state, but I also knew that he didn’t go looking for fights like a drunk frat-boy. “He doesn’t think that you are doing enough on the Claire case.”

“What? He is mad because I am not investigating the disappearance of his imaginary girlfriend?” Marks spit out. He took a bite of the bacon that Kay had just delivered to the table and then pushed the plate to the side.

“Who were you meeting with at Covington this morning?” Marks asked me, catching me off guard.

“Just an informant,” I responded, wondering how he knew about the meeting with Molly.

“Good,” he said. “Maybe she will be able to help you figure out how to keep that shit out of Covington.”

“She doesn’t know as much as I’d hoped,” I told him as I put a $25 down on the table to cover the bill plus tip. I told Marks that I needed to get back to the station to write a supplemental report.

“She doesn’t have to know much,” Marks said as I shook his hand and started towards the door. I stopped when I heard him call out “Detective Townsend.”

His eyes met mine when I turned around. “All she has to know is just a little,” he smiled.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.