Janey jogged aimlessly until her face was red, her nose was dripping, and her fingers were throbbing with cold in the late November afternoon. Skippy, a collie-mix with a shaggy coat who was usually impervious to the weather, trotted beside her with his head down and his tail between his legs. Janey noticed his miserable demeanor with a pang of remorse. It was almost dark now and she looked around the deserted park uneasily, glad to see they were near the entrance gates. She had been oblivious, absorbed in the misery of her latest job rejection and worry about bills. Her struggle to maintain sobriety had her on edge, and a fight with her partner Dan had put the icing on the cake. The satisfaction of storming out dramatically at the height of the argument had long since abated. She shivered as the rain began to pelt down furiously.
“Come on, boy,” she said, bending to pet him. “Let’s go home and make up. Dan will be worrying.”
The furious revving of an engine made her look up. A car roared up from behind, swerving through a deep puddle, drenching them both and racing off. Skippy yelped and fled, pulling the leash from her numb grasp. She wiped her face and turned to follow him. The beams of the car’s headlights pierced the night, showing the dark shape of an approaching figure. The car again sped towards the sidewalk.
“Watch out,” Janey yelled into the teeming rain. To her horror, the car did not slow or swerve this time, but mounted the pavement and struck the figure which cartwheeled out of sight into the darkness of the shrubbery with a dull thud. The car raced off into the distance, its rear lights dwindling to red dots in the rain as it merged into the traffic. Janey stood frozen in horror, hands clasped over her mouth, for what seemed like an exceedingly long time. She shook her head and took her glasses off, trying to dry them on the hem of her sweatshirt, before giving up. Her vision was blurred with or without them. She ran towards the spot where she thought the figure had landed, calling for Skippy as she went. Traffic was whizzing past, but there were no other pedestrians in sight and only weak illumination from the streetlamps. She felt in her pocket for her phone, swearing as she realized she had left it at home when she flounced out. She inched into the shrubs, cautiously pushing aside foliage, calling out.
Suddenly she tripped over something soft but solid. A young woman’s delicate face gazed up at her with fixed, open eyes, tears of rain streaming down her cheeks and merging with the dark stain oozing from her mouth. Janey drew a sharp breath, but before she could make a sound, she lost her balance, toppling down an embankment concealed by the bushes. She rolled several times and landed on her back with a thud at the bottom. Dazed, she suddenly felt a blast of warm breath and a sloppy tongue on her face. Skippy pushed his nose against her, whining anxiously as she gradually levered herself into a sitting position, gratefully hugging him for support. She was about to try standing up when she heard voices in the shrubbery above. Skippy growled softly. She crouched down, stroking the dog to keep him calm, watching as the searching beam of a flashlight flickered and probed above. Shivering, she thanked some deity for the rain.
The voices rose and fell as if arguing. She caught words here and there.
“The other one…”
“Saw a dog…”
“Get out of here…”
There were grunts of exertion, then the slam of doors or trunk. The engine roared, tires screeched, and silence fell. Janey made several futile attempts to climb back up the embankment but slipped in the mud each time. She finally retreated into the park, and trusted Skippy to guide her back to where she’d started. She stumbled after the dog, emerging at the entrance gates to the park. Leaning against the stone pillars, shivering uncontrollably, she tried to regain her breath and get her bearings.
She suddenly saw two large figures loom up and realized with relief that they were police officers, one shining a flashlight in her direction.
“Help me, please,” she said. “A woman was hit by a car and landed in the bushes over there. I think the car hit her on purpose. I didn’t have my phone with me, or I would have called for help…” Her voice trailed off as she saw their expressions. She looked down at her muddy, soaked clothes, and realized that her jeans were torn. Her hair was hanging in stringy wet strands around her face.
“I must look like an escaped lunatic, but it’s just because I fell. Please come and look. Whoever that car hit must be injured or dead,” she said.
“We came looking for you because your boyfriend called. He thought you might be here. He said you ran out of the house and he was afraid you might hurt yourself. He said you’d done that before,” said one of the officers. “On purpose, he meant. Have you been drinking? He said you’ve had problems with that.”
“He said what? I’ll kill him,” said Janey, her voice rising indignantly. The officers looked at each other.
“I don’t mean that literally. It makes me mad that he assumes I’m drunk,” Janey said hastily. “I have been sober for weeks. I went running to calm down after we had an argument and got caught in the rain. Please come and look with me.”
The officer with the flashlight sighed.
“Alright, miss. Whatever makes you happy. We’ll take a quick look.”
Janey pointed to the bushes ahead of them.
“Over there. I went to help after I saw the car hit whoever it was. There was a body in those bushes. I saw her face.”
She watched as one officer held back branches while the other scanned with the flashlight. They did not seem to be moving very urgently. After a few minutes, they turned back.
“Nothing there,” said one. “You’re sure you didn’t imagine it? You were upset. Did you make up a story to scare your boyfriend because he was mad at you for running out?”
“No, I did not imagine it,” said Janey. “The car came back. I heard voices after I fell, but I couldn’t see what was happening. Maybe they took the body with them.”
“That would be very convenient,” one of them said with a smirk.
“Let me look,” she said. One of them stepped back and gestured for her to enter the shrubbery.
“Be my guest,” he said sarcastically.
Janey glared and pushed past him, Skippy loyally at her heels. Suddenly she saw something white against the leaf litter.
“Look,” she said. She pulled out a cheap plastic wallet.
“Here,” she said, excitedly brandishing it at the officers.
One of them opened it. The pale, still face that Janey had seen in the rain smiled back at her from a small photograph, alive and vivid.
“That’s her,” she said. “The car hit her.”
“No telling how long that’s been there,” the officer said dismissively.
His partner impatiently stamped his feet.
“I’m freezing,” he said. “Let’s get out of here. Miss, you need to sober up and let your boyfriend know you’re okay. We’ve got calls waiting.”
Janey snatched the wallet back and stuck it in her pocket.
“Don’t let me detain you any longer,” she said, turning on her heel as haughtily as she could. They were laughing as they went back to their car.
“I’ll look for you,” she said to the anonymous girl, patting her pocket. “You won’t be forgotten. Come on, Skip.” He pricked up his ears and nudged her with his nose as they marched home.