Contest #105 shortlist ⭐️


Crime Drama Fiction

Present Day: Lola

We see our lives as solid. Structures we have built, brick by brick. But I know they are shoddy constructions, not fit for purpose. It’s the illusion of normalcy that is dependable. Just look at my living room, unchanged even as my world crumbles. Only the officers in their uniforms spoil the otherwise familiar scene. And even they will be gone soon.

Over the past week, as it all unfolded, I kept thinking about the time Grayson broke his arm. Just a normal Saturday afternoon at the park. A train on a track it had traversed countless times, abruptly derailed, plunging into disaster.

‘Look mummy!’ yelled my then six-year-old, propelling himself higher and higher on the swing, legs bending and extending, back and forth. It was a needless request. I couldn’t look away. Watching and fretting about how fast he was going. Too fast, my instincts urged.

‘Be careful.’ I regretted my words instantly. It was a slip. A chink in my relaxed-mum armour. I was overprotective, but that was my problem. Not my children’s. This was what kids did. Right? Great, I had thought. Now you’re worrying about worrying. There was probably a profound quote about such neurotic anxiety, coined by some literary genius. Most Likely Oscar Wilde.

I should have trusted my gut. But it was too late then. And it’s too late now.

‘I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Lisa Fletcher,’ intones Detective Chief Inspector Aldane Walker. It’s all very civilised. There are no handcuffs. No struggle. I’ve seen more fuss over a parking ticket.

I had watched it happen. The fall. Up, up, up Grayson veered, concentration and exhilaration competing for facial space. And then he wasn’t on the swing. He was in the air. And I remember thinking, in this moment, while he’s still in the air, he’s fine. He’s complete. If I can pause him right there, everything will be okay.

Such a small mistake. He lost his grip. He broke his arm. And just like that everything changed. One moment rippled through our carefully scheduled lives with alarming speed. All plans for that day were immediately forgotten. Jack had to leave work to collect Molly from her playdate. There were longer term effects too. No swimming lessons for the next six weeks. He’d wear a cast in that year’s school photo. His trampolining birthday party had had to be rearranged. That had led to a tussle with other school mums over what weekend to have the new party because it clashed with so many others. It was like we’d stepped out of the line. Lost our place in an invisible queue.

But this. This wasn’t a ripple.

‘You do not have to say anything,’ the policeman continues.

This was a tsunami.

‘But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’

This will leave nothing behind.

One Week Earlier

Lola strolled through her garden, meandered between giggling gaggles of running children and lumbering dogs, their tongue lolling behind them. Lunch had been a success. Ottolenghi salads, three mains’ options for the adults – chicken, lamb and fish – and pizza for the children. Six types of deserts. All homemade, all organic. She and their au pair, Marika, had planned and prepared it all like a military operation.

It was like this every time. Every time they hosted her husband’s side of the family. Although she didn’t mind. At that moment, basking in the sunshine and the glorious chaos of family, it was all worth it. It was worth every second of stress, planning, cooking and cleaning to have everyone together like this.

‘Lo.’ Her name wasn’t so much called as lobbed across the patio, like one of the tennis balls the kids were throwing for the dogs. It was Matt, her brother-in-law, grinning impishly at her like the big kid he was. He beckoned to her wildly, eliciting groans from all three of his brothers.

Matt was the eldest of the four Lockyer boys. Not that they were boys anymore. The youngest, Will and Dan were 35, while Matt was 43. Lola’s husband, Jake, was 38. And yet the moniker remained. Perhaps because of their presence, the overwhelming effect of all four with their sandy blonde hair, grey eyes and wide smiles. As though when they came together, they exerted a magnetic force.

‘Mate, don’t,’ said Jake. ‘You’re embarrassing yourself.’

‘No.’ Matt raised a defiant hand. ‘Lo will know the answer. She will adzucedate.’

‘I think he meant adjudicate,’ deciphered Dan.

‘Partner in a top city law firm, ladies and gents.’ announced Will.

‘Run away,’ whispered Jake, leaning towards her. ‘Save yourself.’

‘My question to you is this,’ continued Matt. ‘You haven’t heard the Chessington story, have you?’

She laughed. ‘Are you kidding?’

‘A yes or no, please.’

‘Not only do I know the story, Matthew. I could recite it in my sleep. I’m pretty sure it’s the only story you know.’ As the other three erupted into raucous cheers and laughter, Lola added, ‘I’ll go sort some coffee.’

A moment later, she felt the delicate pressure of a hand on her arm. It was perfectly manicured, the various jewels adorning it glittering in the afternoon rays. 

‘How can I help?’ drawled Alana, Matt’s wife. Her sister in-law’s Portuguese accent and husky voice elevated even this simple question to something exotic.

Lola’s lip curled on one side as she deadpanned, ‘How are you with watering down whisky?’

‘I am better at the drinking,’ Alana admitted.

‘In that case, carry on.’

‘Mummy.’ Molly’s large grey eyes stared up at her, a brewing storm. ‘Aria took my bracelet.’

Oh, for the love of... Lola surveyed the garden, spotting the tell-tale frills of a pink skirt peeking out from behind a blackberry bush. Aria. Lola didn’t relish the idea of retrieving the item from her niece. The five-year-old had the face of an angel, but the ruthless, calculating mind of a Silicon Valley CEO. Or a litigator like her dad.

‘We’ll get it back,’ Lola promised her daughter. ‘I just need to get everyone coffee and,’ she lowered herself so she could whisper, ‘cupcakes.’

And just like that, the bracelet was forgotten. For now.

Grayson ran up to them, still wet from playing in the sprinklers.

‘Is auntie Izzy coming?’ he asked.

‘She’s supposed to,’ Lola said dryly, checking her watch.

‘She’ll probably get here tomorrow then,’ Grayson said, his grin the mirror image of his father’s.

‘Why doesn’t auntie Izzy have a watch like me?’ Molly queried, holding up the tiny wrist that bore her beloved pink Fitbit. ‘Did she lose it like Saffron J?’

‘That’s a good question. You should ask her that when she gets here.’

When Lola finally reached her glass-ceilinged open plan kitchen, their au pair, Marika was wiping down a surface. The nineteen-year-old had only been with them for six months. In that short time, she and Lola had become a formidable team, tackling everything from bedtime to baking.

‘How many teas and coffees?’ Marika asked, just as the doorbell rang.

‘Oh, that’ll be Iz,’ Lola said, already moving towards the front of the house. ‘Let’s set up a hot water station and everyone can self-serve,’ she called back. She was done catering for that day.

She wore her most exasperated expression as she swung open the double width door, loudly proclaiming, ‘It’s about ti-. Oh. Hello.’ 

Police officers. A man and a woman. Instinctively, Lola matched their blank canvas faces with her own practiced expression of neutrality. The one she used as chair of governors at her children’s primary school.

‘Hello, my name is Detective Chief Inspector Aldane Walker. This is my colleague, Inspector Amelie James. We’re here to speak with Jake Lockyer. May we come in?’

‘Oh, um.’ Her mind crowded with half formed questions and incomplete thoughts. This wasn’t right, but she couldn’t think why. What could they possibly want? They hadn’t been burgled. ‘Can I see some ID, please? Sorry, it’s just you hear about people pretending to be police and…’

‘Quite right,’ smiled the female officer, both of them retrieving cards which Lola made a show of inspecting. Not that she had a clue how to tell if they were genuine.

‘What is this about?’ Great. She sounded like a bit part on The Bill. Picking up on his cue, the male officer – she had already forgotten both names - played his part in the trope to perfection.

‘It’s really best if we talk about it inside.’

Of course.

‘It’s just that we have family over.’

‘It won’t take long.’

The message was clear. Resistance was, as always, a futile venture.

Lola led the two officers through entrance hall and directly into the path of Aria. The four-year-old was still clutching Molly’s bracelet. She was skipping along, but halted her trajectory with comical abruptness as she laid large blue eyes on the newcomers, her rosebud lips parted in unadulterated awe.

‘Hello,’ the female officer cooed, smiling down.

Recognising an opportunity for attention, Aria smiled. ‘Are you taking auntie Lo to prison?’

Lola couldn’t help but notice she looked more thrilled than appalled at the idea. There again, it had been a useful interjection. With both officers stunned into silence, Lola rushed ahead. ‘I’ll get my husband.’

In Jake’s study, the officers wasted no time.

‘Mr Lockyer, did you submit your DNA to the FamFind ancestry tracing website?’

‘What? Why are you asking?’

‘If you could just answer.’

‘Um. Yeah. Yes. I was doing some research into the family history and things. Is there something wrong?’

‘Have you ever heard the name Lisa Fletcher?’

Jake considered this, then shook his head slowly.

‘I’m sorry, no.’

‘Lisa Fletcher was five when she was abducted and murdered in 1998. A DNA sample has recently been tested and cross-referenced with the national DNA database. it’s been found to be a match with someone in your family.’

‘No. That’s… That’s a mistake.’ Jake’s eyes flashed as they swivelled from one officer to the other.

‘We don’t know enough at this stage to confirm anything,’ the female officer interjected, speaking with a soothing caution usually reserved for calming nervous animals.

‘We’d like you and members of your family to submit to further tests,’ added the other officer.

That was when the doorbell rang again. Izzy.

Present Day: Lola

That’s when I’d realised something was wrong. Because of course. Of course he’d heard of Lisa Fletcher. I mean, who hadn’t? Jamie, Maddie, Holly, Jessica, Milly. And Lisa. These are names everyone knows. These are the names that made mothers clutch their children’s hands tighter in the supermarket. You might not be able to list them, but you know when you hear them. Especially when its from the lips of a police officer. And especially when you grew up a mile away from where her body was discovered.

And yet I had supressed my misgivings. I had dismissed them as ridiculous. This was my husband. My best friend. We told each other every minor detail of our days. We were one of the only couples we knew who hadn’t driven each other mad in lockdown. We’d joked that this was down to us uniting against our common enemy, the children. But even there, Jake was an incredible father, always helping with homework and spending time with Molly and Grayson. He couldn’t know anything about this. Let alone be involved.

‘It’s obviously a mistake,’ I’d asserted confidently later that night as we’d prepared for bed. I’d said the same so many times that day. Likewise, Jake persevered in his own repetitive verbal loop.

‘I can’t believe they’re allowed to just take DNA like that. I had no idea.’

I did have an idea. That’s how they caught the Golden State Killer. The words rushed to the forefront of my mind, but never left my lips. Instead, I said, ‘It’s good they did the tests so fast. As soon as the results come through we can set this all straight.’

It’s amazing, the brain’s ability to protect us from trauma. It obfuscates and ignores and even lies to itself.

‘What do we tell the kids?’ Alana whispers beside me. She is a shadow of the beauty she was just days ago. Her blonde hair is a matted mess, her usually luminous skin has the toxic hue of a smoker’s fingernails. Yet Matt’s wife has proved much tougher than our other two sisters-in-law. Cressida and Anna have retreated into their homes, their silence the loudest expression of grief.

‘The older ones will need to know,’ I croak, my throat sore with the effort of holding back a torrent of sobs.

Our eyes meet and lock together in an unspoken pact. We are what is left. Alana nods, and together we turn and walk back up the driveway to my house.

Present Day: Amelie

‘Well done, Inspector.’

Amelie James felt a blush creep into her cheeks at the praise. She focused on looking in at the interview suite. There he was. Not the charming, handsome, successful husband and father. It was as if the stark light of the room stripped him of all these labels. He was unmasked.   

‘Thanks, boss. Although I’m not sure how much credit I can take.’

‘Don’t be modest. You’re rubbish at it. You’re the one who wanted to test the sample. This is your catch.’

It was true. It had been her idea to compare the DNA found on Lisa Fletcher to the database. She’d been eleven years old when Lisa’s face had become part of the public consciousness. That now iconic photo of the little girl smiling in a sandbox, her nose crinkled joyfully as she held up a spade. The case had imprinted on her psyche, had left a mark on her that remained to this day. It might even have been part of directing her career choice.

‘I don’t think this was a first offence, boss,’ she said to DCI Walker. ‘It’s a too big. It would have started off smaller. Theft, stalking, that sort of thing.’

‘Yeah,’ he replied in his silk and sandpaper voice. ‘I have a feeling this is just the beginning. Once this comes out, so will the rest.’

‘How’d they manage to stay so clean? Not so much as a speeding ticket between them.’

‘You know the answer to that.’ He was, as always, testing her training.

‘The same way Harold Shipman’s family didn’t know,’ she recited. ‘And BTK. It’s all part of the thrill. The fact that nobody would ever think them capable.’

And who would in this case? She could hardly believe it herself.

Present Day: Lola

Alana and I perform our interpretation of Lady Macbeth, cleaning house rather than hands until every surface sparkles. We work silently side by side, our conspiracy of denial, of delaying the onset of reality. All that can wait. The children are at school. Marika left yesterday, returning home, her tears only adding to mine.

We have until 4pm. That’s when DCI Walker will give his press conference. There he will announce that they have solved the case of Lisa Fletcher. That four men have been charged with her murder.

The Lockyer Boys.

They really were a unit, I think, as I scrub a bathtub as though it had wronged me. A team. It didn’t matter that it was only Matt’s DNA that had been discovered. That the other three were not implicated. They had a pact. If one went down, the others would follow. Jake, Dan and Will all turned themselves in at the police station this morning. Only Matt had been collected by police car just minutes ago.

I couldn’t understand. Seriously, when Jake came to me last night and told me he was turning himself in, I thought I had misheard him.

‘For what?’ I could hear desperation in my voice. Fatigue, sadness, and confusion swirled in my head like a poisonous cocktail. Alana and Matt’s kids were staying with us overnight so she could get her head together. The day had been draining and awful and I wanted nothing but sleep.

‘We’re all doing it,’ Jake had said. I pause while descaling a tap, a chill running down my spine as I recall how calm he had been. I made up for it with boundless hysteria, balancing the scales.

‘It doesn’t make any sense,’ I had railed. ‘Matt did it. Not you.’

Jake wouldn’t explain. He just kept insisting that he was keeping his promise.

‘You didn’t have kids when you made that promise,’ I yelled. ‘You didn’t have a family who depended on you.’

I had pushed and pushed. I wanted answers. No. Correction. I thought I wanted answers. Thought I wanted to know why my husband was voluntarily destroying our life, what part he’d played in the murder.

‘She was five, Jake,’ I rasped, my face inches from his. ‘Younger than Molly.’

I don’t know how long it took. I’m not sure what time it was when I finally wore him down. I do know that we were on opposite sides of the sofa, him leaning forward, elbows on knees. My knees were bent, my chin resting on them. I had run out of tears and was too tired to get myself socks for my cold, bare feet.

‘Matt knows things.’ He spoke clearly into the silence. ‘We all know things. About each other.’

It was a fairly cryptic statement and a dire understatement of the facts. I can’t explain how it is that I understood immediately, only that I did. I grasped what he meant as soon as he said it.

There were more. More Lisa Fletchers. More to lose. And Matt literally knew where those bodies were buried. 

August 05, 2021 17:09

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Amanda Lieser
17:49 Aug 16, 2021

Wow! Elli, this piece was spectacular. You did an incredible job of creating a mystery around the crime. I loved how you included the different perspectives so the reader could put it all together. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted.


Elli Lewis
20:13 Aug 16, 2021

Thanks Amanda!


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Shea West
04:51 Aug 16, 2021

Dang. This was great. You did an excellent job at telling us so much while also telling us very little. Alluding to what could be was very powerful here! This made me think very much of Liane Moriarty style of writing with The Husband's Secret...not exactly like it, but similar in style anyway. I really enjoyed this and you brought it home solidly with‘Matt knows things.’ He spoke clearly into the silence. ‘We all know things. About each other.’ Which makes me want to know so much more! What else did these slime bags do?! Congrats on your...


Elli Lewis
06:29 Aug 16, 2021

Thanks Shea!


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Katie Kanning
20:58 Aug 22, 2021

Hey Elli, I love your story! I'm wondering if I could read it on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, and 5 other locations. It's in its growing stage, so I'd only ask you to share your episode with friends if you like it :) You can check out the format here:


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Aditi Kshirsagar
11:48 Aug 16, 2021

This was wonderful. The last four lines... got me goosebumps. The easy transition into something so grave was great.


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