Crime Thriller American

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

Alison McDowell burst through her front door, red faced and shaking, tears streaming from her panic-stricken eyes. As she leaned forward to pry off her shoes, she toppled over and fell head-first into the mirrored door of the front hall closet. Shards of reflective glass exploded all around her, as if to mock and magnify her pathetic state. She crumbled into a ball on the floor, tears and blood coalescing all around her.

Daniel rushed down the stairs, half asleep.

“What the… honey! Are you okay?” He slid his slippers on and waded through the broken glass to help his wife to her feet. Her eyes were puffy, half-opened and bloodshot. The unmistakable smell wafting from her mouth answered all his immediate questions.

She slurred something that sounded like, “Drove home, hit a deer.”

“Okay, easy.” He helped her up the stairs and into the bathroom, where he plucked tiny shards of glass from the cut on her forehead with tweezers, cleaned the wound as best he could, stripped her dirty clothes off and guided her into bed.

She was snoring in less than a minute. He went downstairs to check on the car, finding it on a slant in the garage with a deer-sized dent and fresh blood smeared all over the front bumper. His immediate reaction was one of relief. At least she was okay. That could have been bad.

Daniel woke up early, jolted from a bad dream. He looked over at Alison; she wouldn’t be up for a while. He put a big glass of water and two Advil on her bedside table and went downstairs to make coffee, turning on the radio.

BREAKING NEWS: Local Teenage Girl Killed in a Hit and Run. The sixteen-year-old’s body, identified as Gwen Peterson, was found early this morning—

Every ounce of blood drained from Daniel’s face. He turned on the TV to catch the rest of the story and was nauseated by the details. The girl’s body was found in a ditch on Fontaine Road at 6:10AM, only two blocks from their house.

His heart was in his stomach, throat, and chest all at once. He didn’t know how drunk someone would have to be to mistake a human being for a dog, but it wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility.

He sat down at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. An intense feeling of dread enveloped him. He knew somewhere deep down that it was no coincidence, that his wife was to blame for the accident.

He kept quiet for the rest of the day while he thought through his plan. It wouldn’t be hard to keep Alison from the news for the day, she probably wouldn’t even want to leave bed, let alone look at a bright, talking screen. He had a couple of hours, at least, before she woke up. And thankfully their daughter Paula was away at summer camp. He was pretty sure Paula went to school with the girl who was killed.

An idea struck him. He went upstairs and into Paula’s bedroom, hoping she didn’t take her iPad with her. It was sitting on her desk. He took it downstairs and bypassed the password with his parental controls. He felt guilty as he clicked the Facebook messenger icon. He didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, but he searched for the name “Gwen” in the chat history. Bingo. A message from her best friend Bailey was the first thing to pop up.

Bailey: Can you BELIEVE Gwen slept with Liam? Emma is going to literally kill her when she finds out.

Paula: OMG, I know. I’m not gonna be the one to tell her. It’s not my place. She’ll find out soon enough.

Bailey: Well, Rachel knows.

Paula: Oh man. Would NOT want to be Gwen right now.

The messages were from three days ago. Daniel’s heart raced as his plan became clear. He assumed it was Emma Watkins, but he searched for Emma’s page to be sure. Emma Watkins’ profile picture was of her and a familiar-looking boy. Sure enough, it was Liam Goddard. Who would have thought teenage gossip could be so helpful?

The next step was to wait. Luckily, Alison wouldn’t be hard to subdue for the day. She woke up around noon with an unsurprising headache. He brought her breakfast in bed and told her to take it easy. When she asked about the car, Daniel sat on the side of the bed and spoke slowly.

“Ali, you left it on the road, unlocked. It’s been missing since early morning.” Her eyes widened.

“It was stolen? Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh, it’s okay. It’s insured. I’m just glad you’re okay”, he said as he kissed his wife on the forehead, gently so as not to irritate her wound.

That afternoon, he went to the office in hopes of finding the missing piece of his plan. He signed into the Police department’s evidence log and searched for Emma Watkins. Teenagers in this town always had a record of some sort.

What he found couldn’t have been more perfect. Miss Watkins had three DWIs to date. Meaning her fingerprints were definitely on record. He emailed the file to his personal email, cleared the search history and headed home.

As for the next part of his plan, he wasn’t entirely sure it would work but it was worth a shot. Back in his home office, he booted up the 3D printer for the second time since he bought it. He had great plans for using that thing, but its novelty had faded fast. He opened the file, adjusted some settings and hit print. And there he had it, a silicon mold of the fingerprint of drunk driving, jealousy-fueled Emma Watkins.

He took the mold to the garage and using scotch tape, lifted and transferred the print to the steering wheel.

That night, when Alison was fast asleep and Daniel was sure the rest of the town would be too, he crept into the garage and drove the banged-up car down Fontaine Road. He left it in the woods, with the driver’s seat door ajar, about half a mile from where the crime scene was taped off. He walked home, praying that no one had seen him.  

When Daniel arrived at work on Monday, his secretary was already in.

“Good morning, Mr. McDowell. The main priority for today is the Peterson case. The police have a suspect. They found Emma Watkins’ fingerprints in an abandoned car not far from the scene.”

“Oh, that’s strange. Our car went missing on Saturday night.”

His secretary, Mona, looked surprised. “Oh, they didn’t mention the plates or anything. Just that it had been stolen and that Emma Watkins’ prints were found on the steering wheel.”

“Huh. I wonder if it’s ours. Man, this is all too close to home.” Daniel’s brow furrowed in feigned worry.

The case was easy to prosecute. The evidence irrefutably pointed to Emma Watkins. Not only were her fingerprints found on the steering wheel of the car that had hit and killed Gwen Peterson, she had a motive, a history of drunk driving and no real alibi. Her parents testified that she was home and had gone to bed before midnight on Saturday, but the accident happened around 3:00AM and everyone knows teenage girls sneak out.

Emma Watkins was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

When Alison first saw the story on the news, Daniel thought he saw a flicker of a revived memory cross her face. She looked him dead in the eye with a look that told him without words that she knew what he’d done.

He expected her to make a fuss, maybe even to turn herself in. But she knew what that would mean for them both. She couldn’t leave Paula alone with not one, but two parents in jail. She stared at him, her eyes blazing, for a few long moments. And then, as quickly as it appeared, the fire faded.

He didn’t feel good about it either, but his morals had vanished long ago, swept away into the gutter of the American justice system.

August 05, 2022 18:52

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