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Contemporary Crime Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

"Guys we have to get a photo!” Kiara shrieked, the pitch of her voice betraying the effects of her third vodka-soda. 

I rolled my eyes at Alexis but obliged, turning my back to the stage and putting my arms around Alexis to my right and Kiara to my left as Kiara reached her arm out to snap a selfie of the three of us. Having known me as long as she had, she knew better than to let me look at it and beg her to delete it. I hated the way my smile made my eyes scrunch asymmetrically, and it didn’t help that Kiara and Alexis always looked like models. 

My distaste for photos aside, it was a good moment to capture. The New Orleans brass band concert was the first time the three of us had been together for months, and I hadn’t realized just how much I missed live music and my oldest girlfriends. I had been struggling with the emotional load of my first year of a master’s degree in social work, Alexis was deep in accounting busy season had recently broken up with her boyfriend of five years, and Kiara was on the verge of quitting her consulting job for something with less travel and reasonable hours. The concert gave us a few hours of dancing and forgetting about the rest of our lives on a Friday night, and Alexis even managed to chat with a handsome man in front of us despite being out of practice with flirting.

***

The Tuesday after the concert, I was nodding off on my couch while trying to read a dry legal document for my Social Welfare Policy class when my phone pinged with a text message. Happy for the distraction, I picked it up to see a “Fearsome Threesome” group text alert from Kiara.

“Do you guys recognize this guy? I feel like I do but can’t figure out why…” the message said, with a link to an online news article. 

I clicked the link:

Partner arrested and charged with first-degree murder of Mariel Wright

Jonathon Preston, 26, of Springfield, was arrested this morning in connection with the murder of Mariel Wright, 23, at her home on the 1800 block of Fairview Ave. on the night of Friday, March 18th. Preston and Wright had been in a relationship for two years, but had been having issues recently according to the victim’s sister.

Doorbell camera footage from a neighbor shows Preston leaving Wright’s row house at 7:56pm dressed in gray pants and a fleece jacket. At 9:19pm, a man the same size as Preston dressed in black jeans, a black hoodie, and a black mask is seen approaching Wright’s front door and gaining access to her house by punching through a front window and reaching through to unlock the door. At 9:43pm, the same man is seen leaving through the front door. At 10:58pm, Wright’s roommate, Michelle Starling, is seen entering the house. Wright was found deceased in the living room, reportedly from blunt force trauma to the head and chest. 911 records show a call made by Starling at 10:59pm.

After 16 hours of questioning, police have arrested Preston and charged him with murder in the first degree. He is being held awaiting bail hearing but has stated through an attorney that he plans to plead innocent. Anyone with additional information regarding this case is encouraged to call the Springfield police department with an option to remain anonymous.

Zooming in on the small mugshot, I saw an attractive man with swollen, red-rimmed eyes and an expression of profound despair. There was no trace of guilt or defiance, only deep sorrow. He did look oddly familiar though. I had begun to catalogue to overlaps in Kiara and my social circles – couldn’t be a work colleague of hers if I recognized him, couldn’t be a grad school classmate of mine if she recognized him – when a text from Alexis popped up:

“Holy shit that’s the guy I was talking to at the concert. He introduced himself as Jon.”

Kiara responded immediately, “Are you sure?”

I certainly wasn’t sure.   Alexis held her liquor better than Kiara but had not been close to sober. I thought the guy she was talking to had a slimmer face, and curlier hair. 

Alexis replied, “I really think it’s him. That’s so crazy - he wasn’t creepy at all! He even told me he had a girlfriend but they had gotten in a fight and that’s why he came to the concert alone.”

“Whoa,” I replied, not knowing what else to say, as Kiara said “Girl I said find a new man, not a murderer, damn.”

I tried to shake off the whole strange coincidence and got up to refill my coffee mug. I had to stop texting and finish the reading so I could write my summary. 

As I settled back onto the couch and tried to focus, a discomfort nagged at me like an itchy shirt tag. Exasperated with myself, I put the article down and picked up my phone again, tapping and scrolling to the photo of the three of us Kiara had posted on Instagram without even sending it out for approval. Sure enough, in the background between Alexis and me there was the profile of a man. I zoomed in on the small screen, and almost dropped my phone when I realized the man in the photo was the same man as the mugshot. Alexis was right, she had talked to him at the concert. I took a screenshot, zoomed in, and cropped it before sending it to them with the caption “It WAS him!”

Within thirty seconds, my phone rang with a call from Alexis. She hated talking on the phone so it must be serious, or maybe she was just freaked out, which was understandable.

“Hey,” I answered.

Alexis didn’t even say hello before blurting “He’s not a murderer.”

“What do you mean? He just got arrested for murder,” I replied.

“Rach, it was Friday night. The concert was Friday night. It can’t be him.”

A cog clicked into place, stopping my spinning thoughts. “Wait, you’re right. The show started at 9, and we were there until 11.”

Alexis jumped in, “Yeah exactly. I ran into him by the front door as we were walking to the Uber and gave him my card in case,” she paused sheepishly, “you know in case things didn’t work out with his girlfriend. That was like 11:15, I remember from the Uber confirmation. And he was standing in front of us when Rebirth came on, which had to be around 9, they never start shows late. He was right there with us the whole time.”

She was right. I had noticed him too when we first walked in, because it was a little odd to be at a concert alone. He had gone to the bathroom at least once, but he hadn’t left for more than a few minutes. There was no way he could have changed clothes, killed his girlfriend across town, changed clothes again, and come back to the show. The Pit didn’t even allow re-entry.

We called Kiara and listened to her have the same lightbulb reaction when we explained the timing. “Hold on,” she said, coming back with “I took the photo at 9:32pm.”

Alexis must have had the news article pulled up too and exclaimed “That’s exactly when the man was in the house. It couldn’t have been him.”

I thought about the venue, which surely had security. “Why wouldn’t they have checked the cameras at The Pit? “

Kiara cut in, “Why would they? He probably said he was at the show but no one could verify it. Just having a ticket doesn’t mean he actually went. He had a motive to kill her, and it looks good for the cops to solve a murder. They don’t want to have to actually do work.” She was right. The boyfriend was always an obvious suspect. 

“I have a client meeting downtown in an hour,” Alexis said excitedly, “I’ll stop by the police station afterwards. Kiara text me the photo.”

***

Evidence leads to release of suspect in Mariel Wright murder case, new suspect named

With the emergence of new eyewitness testimony and review of additional photographic and video evidence Jonathon Preston, 26, of Springfield, has been released and all charges against him have been dropped. Mr. Preston was in a romantic relationship with the victim at the time of her death however it has been confirmed that he could not have been present at her residence at the time of the murder. 

A coworker, Curtis Smith, 35, of Springfield has now been named as a suspect. Smith was recently fired from Elevation due to allegations of sexual harassment. Wright worked in human resources for Elevation and may have been involved with his termination. Smith has not been seen in the week since her murder, and a car registered to his name was found abandoned on a Forest Service road outside of Midvale earlier today. Anyone with knowledge of Smith’s current whereabouts is urged to call the Springfield police department.

***

Alexis had taken her glasses off to rub her eyes, vision blurred from the previous eight hours of staring at spreadsheets, when the courier delivered the flowers to her closed office door with a terse knock. Curious, she opened the door to find the colorful bouquet and picked up the card, completely baffled. 

The card read: “Nothing I can say will ever be enough but thank you for giving me my life back. Jon Preston.” 

May 07, 2022 03:52

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4 comments

Martha Sanipe
04:03 May 12, 2022

You did a great job telling this story. I like how you wove the news articles into the narrative. Love the happy ending!

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Maria Avisal
02:13 May 13, 2022

Thank you! It was definitely a new format experiment for me, I read a bunch of depressing articles about crimes to try to get the tone right

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Tricia Shulist
14:20 May 09, 2022

Nice story. I was afraid it would be a scenario where the women didn’t want to get involved. Phew! Thanks for this.

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Maria Avisal
02:15 May 13, 2022

Thank you! I am guilty of holding my fictional characters to high ethical standards ;)

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