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The Paths We Take #7: Serene Violence

Mar 27, 2018






Hollinger Park was colder than it had been the day before. The bleakness of the day washed over the place, giving it a Chernobyl-like feel, devoid of life except for the flow of the river. My eyes pored over the photograph, imagining how the last twenty-four hours would’ve been if I’d never taken the photo.

When the plump-faced officer handed me my jacket from the gray property bin, I found the photo safe in the pocket where I’d left it. The top right corner had been bent but it was unharmed otherwise. They’d also searched my truck and had it towed to the station. Aside from my registration card and a few other papers scattered on the floorboard, everything was intact. The camera was still in the box sitting on the passenger seat.

I had snapped several more photos of the park, secretly hoping that I had bought a magic camera that took magic pictures, but in the end, they were just pictures of benches, trees, and the river; there was nothing strange or enchanted about any of them. I captured a photo of the “Love-wood” that Claire had been admiring when I first saw her. Lovers’ initials were etched in the trunk of the towering maple. “M & D” were prominent in the center, the cuts were deep and dark, almost as if they were burned in. The shutter of the camera mirrored the sound of the leaves as the bursts of wind scattered them across the park.

I roamed over to the water’s edge and stood on the riverbank as I watched the black water take the fallen leaves hostage and shuffle them downstream. I always loved the raw power of the river, the ability to take things and make them disappear, capable of serene violence hidden beneath the ripples and the swirls.

The camera made a slight splash when it hit the thick water and then sank into the darkness in an instant. I held the photo over the water, the wind whipped and almost tore it from my grasp. I wanted to watch it disappear like the camera, but I couldn’t let it go. The frozen memory was a part of me now; she was a part of my life, like Claire, and I couldn’t let her go without answers.

My cell rang as I was making my way along the path back to the parking lot. I hit the answer button and a familiar voice asked, “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I lied.

“I am going to stop by. You still at Delarose and Cedar?”

“Yeah, but I’m at the park now.”

“I will just meet you there then,” the voice said.

“No, come to my place, I will be there in ten,” I urged as I hung up the phone.

Detective Townsend was waiting there when I got home. He looked different from when I saw him last. His walnut hair half covering his ears and his face was full of thick stubble. He was wearing blue jeans with a gray hoodie under a black leather coat that made him look more likely to be trying to score smack than be a cop.

I unlocked the door to my apartment and he followed me inside. My place was a shit-box one-bedroom apartment on the first floor. The lady upstairs had to be pushing eighty and would bang on the floor with a broom if she thought my tv was too loud. She sat on her balcony and chain-smoked Pall Malls year-round, ignoring the rain, snow, or clothes-soaking humidity.

“What kind of shit have you gotten yourself into now?” Det. Townsend asked as we stood in the kitchen. It had been over a day since I had eaten anything substantial. I grabbed a jar of peanut butter and scooped a gob out with my index finger. Det. Townsend looked at me like I had just bitten the head off a cobra.

He went over to the Howard Miller grandfather clock that stood in the corner. “Nice clock,” he said as he ran his fingers down the cherry finish.

“It was my Mom’s,” I replied as I dug out another chunk of peanut butter.

“Are you going to keep doing that?” he asked?


“The word around the station is that you made up some nut-job story about a girl being abducted outside Nancy’s.” He grabbed the jar of peanut butter out of my hand and threw it in the trash just as I had gotten another full gob on my finger. “They were thinking about charging you with filing a false police report.”

“Why are you even here if you’re just going to give me shit? Didn’t you get transferred?”

“I’m in Drugs and Vice now,” he said looking down at his boots. He had always been calm, and he was the one of the only people I had left in my life that I felt semi-comfortable around.

“You look like a meth-addicted hobo biker,” I said.

To my surprise, Det. Townsend laughed, showing a big block of teeth, his head tilted toward the ceiling where Mrs. Jernigan would undoubtedly be pounding on the floor with her broom shortly. I had never seen him laugh before.

“They said that you had a camera in your truck.”

“I always have my work camera in the truck,” I replied.

“Yeah, but not an old Polaroid.”

“I don’t have time for this shit,” I said. “I don’t have it, it’s in the river.”

“Of course, it is,” he said looking at the door. “You are making this worse. I stood up for you back there. I told them you were going through a tough time and that you needed something to focus on. I mean taking photographs at Hollinger, seriously-”

“How did you know I was taking pictures at Hollinger?” I asked as the lump in my throat began to swell.

“I saw you there earlier. I knew you would probably be there, so I just thought I’d drop by.”

“You said you were going to stop by my place,” I broke in. Det. Townsend walked over and put his hand on my shoulder and studied my eyes as I looked at him.

“You have to stop going by the park.” he said. His stare was full of needles, as each second passed they sunk deeper into my retinas, forcing me to look away.

“Let it go,” he said.

He knew. This whole time he had been watching me. Claire knew, she was there, the only other person with a vantage point of the bench; she saw it; that is why they took her.

“Luke, do you hear me… Let it go,” he urged as his grip tightened on my shoulder. He let go and walked back over to the clock, checking his cell phone, and then putting it back into his pocket.

“Special Investigations is looking into the girl. Don’t complicate things for yourself. I am sure that what you saw with that girl wasn’t what it looked like. This whole thing sounds like a prank to me. These sorority girls have to think of clever ways to scare their pledges these days.”

“It wasn’t a joke. They called the police and had me arrested.” I said as I pulled a container of orange juice from the fridge and took a long swig.

“No one has reported a girl missing,” Det. Townsend blurted out. “The surveillance footage at Nancy’s doesn’t show a thing. Just a pretty blonde getting some coffee and then leaving, and then you, that’s it.”

“Nothing?” I asked. My chest was heavy and my head started to pound.

“Nothing,” he replied as I heard the buzz of the cell phone in his pocket. “Anyway, this isn’t my case, I am just here to help you. I have to go; if anything else comes up, I’ll call you. And don’t go to the park. It’s best for everyone.”

He shut the door behind him as he left. I pulled the photograph from my jacket. It was my ticket if this whole thing went to shit. My only card to play.

I popped the wooden side panel of the grandfather clock out of place. I kept a couple thousand dollars cash in a white envelope inside the compartment. I put the photograph inside the envelope with the cash. I kept most of my important paperwork in the compartment as well, along with some of my mother’s gold jewelry that I couldn’t bear to sell. I grabbed my Smith & Wesson .40 out before sliding the wooden panel back in place.

I needed to talk with Nancy.



© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.