The five of us stare studiously at the papers in front of us. No one daring to look up for fear of seeing how the others have taken the news. A clock ticks rhythmically in the background as we sit procrastinating before making any decisions. 

The papers are a blur of organized text, but our primary focus lies on the array of photos that have been placed on top. They tell a story that words could never even touch. The entire life of a child is laid out before us, from birth to when she was found ten hours ago in a suitcase that washed up on the beachfront property of a renown five star hotel. 

It is our job to decide how this mystery is handled. Do we break the tragedy to the news and let them take control over publicity, or do we keep this event hushed, and find the culprit without the world’s prying eyes. 

Across the table, someone sighs, breaking the silence. “She was only eight.” 

The table falls silent once more, our eyes straining on the photo of the dead girl smiling just five days before she was found. Her short hair in little ponytails tied with rainbow elastics… the same elastics that were matted in her hair when she was found. 

She was supposed to be on a sailing trip with her family. Her oldest brother had just graduated from college, so their family had decided to rent a boat and go island hopping for a month. None of them have been heard from since the photo was posted. 

Someone to my right coughs as I reach forward to shift through the photos once more. “We need to tell someone.” I barely whisper as I uncover the one photo I’ve been avoiding. 

The evident brutality of the murder horrifies and nauseates me. “We have to tell someone,” I say with more conviction. I finally dare to look up, willing the others to also do so.

“The more publicity there is, the more likely we will have public compliance. The faster we can find out who did this!” I enunciate every word with bitter conviction.

A voice across the table answers, “But if the public knows, we will have to take greater care with how we act. And don’t forget where we are. People here are more worried about tourism than a killer on the loose!” She pauses and breathes heavily. She continues, very quietly, “We also don’t know who we are after. We can’t rule out that it wasn’t a family member who did this. We just don’t know enough to even make a coherent case.” She shifts through the photos, her shoulders sagging as she lets her head rest in her hand. 

“How are we to know how this will impact the town? Our economy is driven by tourists. We don’t even know where the rest of the family is?” the new speaker lets out a shuddering breath before continuing. “I want to tell the public, but we simply don’t have enough information yet. We can’t ruin this town without knowing anything. All we know is a girl is dead. That. is. it.” 

We fall into silence once more. The clock ticks. Rhythmically marking every second we waste contemplating what to do. Somewhere, right now, out among unknowing citizens, there is a killer. “But doesn’t the public have the right to know what is happening?” The last member of the table asks. Her voice is cold, she’s been a part of many committees like this before. She knows what needs to be said and is not afraid of the tragedy like the rest of us.

Her non-empathetic voice seems to echo through the room, bouncing off the walls between the ticking seconds.

I hold my breath for a second, waiting for the next argument to be raised, but there is only silence. 

Silence, and that damned clock. 

Seconds tick by, sluggishly turning into minutes.

“Seventeen hundred, victim found in a pink carry on suitcase,” The cold voice reads aloud. She bites out every word, reading aloud the report we all have memorized. 

She pauses and looks up from the paper, “Well, are we gonna do our job? Or are we going to waste our time- time that we could be spending trying to find the killer- complaining about how the public will take the news?”

“I- I just don’t want to mess up. I don’t want to do something that could result in panic or more pain.” 

“By telling the public, we can ensure that people take the proper precautions while we find the culprit. We need to work with them, not hide possible dangers from them.”

Her sharp words ring through the room once more. 

We return to staring at the papers in front of us. No one daring to speak against her claims.

Everyone wants the best for the citizens, it’s why we signed up for this job. We just never thought that something this horrific would occur. We sit soberly around the table, listening to the seconds pass. 

This town was small and filled with kindhearted people. Something like this was never supposed to occur. Tragedies only happen in big cities, or in homely towns. 

The photo blurs in front of me, that poor child. 

I let my head fall to the table. The cool false wood lament sticks to my unwashed face. I finally realize what time it is as I allow a glance at the clock. The aged face reads 5:27. Outside the small room, the gurgling of a coffee pot starts. 

Pushing my chair back I slowly lift my face from the table, scratching at my day old stubble as I try to look around. Everyone continues to stare studiously at the pictures laying before them. 

Our complete incompetence in handling this case sickens me. We are failing in our duty to protect the town. Failing to protect our friends and family who reside here. 

Failing to make a goddamned decision.

February 05, 2020 17:36

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Olivia Fairfax
14:13 Feb 17, 2020

This looks like being a poignant and dramatic story but is it a short story? It feels like the beginning of a detective story. I hope so because it has promise but at the moment it is not clear who the people are (are they police?). They are part of a committee but what committee? Surely the police would have some sort of policy for dealing with crimes and the public?


Mary Lombardi
22:52 Feb 18, 2020

Thank you for the comment! I was actually thinking about turning this story into a full fledged book but I wanted to pose the idea here first. The people are supposed to be investigators (looking back I did make it overly vague) looking into a string of murders. They are facing the dilemma of whether fully informing the public would help, or hinder them in solving the case. Thank you once more for the comment! It will help me in the writing process to clear up the overarching story.


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