Tracy didn’t even glance up when she said it. Loftin was stunned. He sat in the ADA’s office, watching as she read over documents and assorted papers. He had only asked if he would be able to take up the rape case. Tracy was not willing to let him.
“What? Why not?” He asked. Tracy glared down at the piles of papers at her desk, refusing to look at him.
“Is that really a question you want to ask?”
Loftin leaned back into his chair, staring at her.
“Morgan, mind you.”
“Alright, Morgan, why won’t you let me take the case?”
Tracy finally set down her papers, looking over at him through the top of her glasses. Her eyes bore into his.
“Loftin, do you remember the Mendoza child abuse case back in 2011?” She snapped. Loftin grew quiet. Of course he did. How could he forget something like that? He shifted in his seat, wary.
“I can see by your change in expression you do. And what about the Lofferman v. Anjolia? Morgan v. Lain?”
“Yes, yes, I know, I worked those cases, but, Tracy, I don’t see how-“
“Yes, sure, whatever, but what does this have to with-“
Tracy slapped her hands on the desk, staring intently at Loftin. Her eyes flashed with warning.
“I’ll tell you exactly what it has to do with this, Toby. With those investigations and those trails, you blindly believed the victims no matter how atrocious or absurd the complaining suspect was.” She leaned in closer across the desk. Her breath was hot. It sent shivers down his spine.
“First you suspected the Mendoza’s were lying illegal immigrants who just wanted to protect themselves against their adopted daughter Maurica – but when you went over the edge and you proclaimed that the Mendoza’s – all eight of them at that time, including a sixteen year old, a fourteen year old and a ten year old should all be sent to prison because Maurica claimed that they all abused her. You never asked for evidence, you never asked for witness statements. You blindly believed her. Then the same thing happened with Lofferman v. Anjolia.”
“Jessica was just a preteen-“
“Jessica Lofferman accused her step mother Diana Anjolia of abuse when she had no evidence. She didn’t have any scars, nor did she have any witnesses to the beatings that she claimed when there was three people living in the house at the time.”
“She put makeup on her arms, face and legs to make it seem like she had bruises when she first came to us, how was I supposed to ignore that?” He retorted.
“Nobody is saying you should’ve ignored her but you went out, you helped her with the claims, you accused the step mother of abuse when you had no reliable, tangible evidence to support your statement to the jury, and because of that our department lost credibility. Because of your blindness we were given advice from the judge – to fire you.”
Her words felt like needles, but Loftin knew her to be true. He hated that she was right in all contexts but that didn’t stop him from opening his mouth to protest. She silenced him with a glare.
Toby sighed, rubbing his eyes with his fingers.
“Okay, I get it-“
“I don’t think you do. Remember how I was the one who suggested that we give you a second chance, Toby. I was the one who said that you were one of our most promising detectives and that we would only give you a simple degrade of a desk job as punishment. I was the one who saved your ass.”
“Morgan, I’m not asking for anything else except to investigate this claim. This is the first male victim to come forward for us.”
“Yes, which would make us all the more suspicious of this. Don’t you think it’s odd that a young man – what, age eighteen is saying that a sixteen year old girl raped him? He’s wholly admitting that sex took place, which if it was taken to trial the jury would convict him of statutory rape-“
“But what if they find that girl guilty? What if we convinced them this happened, and that girl should be considered a rapist no matter her age-“
“But what if it’s another false case? What if he’s lying about all this to get attention?”
“But what if he’s telling the truth?” Loftin spat at her, standing up from his chair as it tumbled to the floor. They stood, glaring at each other like rabid dogs.
“Loftin,” Tracy started slowly, as if she was talking to a child, “understand that you will not take this case. It is too risky for you to endanger your reputation as well as my own and the department.”
“Wilson,” Loftin mimicked her tone mockingly, “understand that this case must be real. A man would not make up something like this to gain attention.”
“It is not unheard of-“
“When it’s accusations of murder, or theft, but rape? This boy is putting everything on the line – you said it yourself, he has the chance to be accused for statutory rape if a trial on it does not go according to plan. Do you think he would risk his own reputation, his well-being, his security, as well as his families, his friends, if he just wanted attention?”
Silence. Doubt was starting to settle on Tracy’s face. She tucked in her lips. Loftin hoped it was a sign of thinking. Just then, the door to Tracy’s office opened.
“Hey, Wilson, do you mind if-“
Soto stopped in his tracks when he spotted the two. Clutching his papers in his hand, he said nothing as he turned to leave.
“What if Soto came with me?”
Both sets of eyes turned to Loftin with confusion.
“What?” Tracy asked. Loftin cleared his throat. This was his one chance at this case. He had to make her believe.
“What if I had Jacobs and Soto come with me for the duration of the investigation?” He asked slowly. Soto was now looking between the two, bewildered.
“Sir, I am an officer, not a detec-“
“You don’t need two detectives to investigate a crime in a medium town like ours, Loftin.” Tracy interrupted. He muttered a curse to himself, picking up the chair and sitting back down.
“If you won’t let me handle the case because of past offenses, shouldn’t it be better that I have two other well-reputed officers with me, even if they aren’t qualified detectives?”
Silence fell over the office. Loftin looked at Tracy with hope. She had to let him do this.
She had to.
“What did the report say?” She directed the question to Soto after some time of staring at the wood on her desk. Loftin had to suppress a grin.
“The rape took place at a hotel resort on IH-70. The victim had said he left a belt in the hotel room of the establishment.” Soto responded. Tracy nodded, sighing with defeat.
“Alright, Loftin, fine. Take the case-“
A mini celebration had already started in his head but Tracy had one of those looks that sent a shiver down his back.
“- but you will need to take Officers Jacobs and Soto with you so they can monitor your practice and investigation, understand? I have a hard time believing the hotel wasn’t cleaned up after the party took place so any physical evidence or any strands of hair, blood, and items of clothing that are present within the room and have not been cleaned up, please notify me, though I suggest you question the victim-”
Soto slide a document onto Tracy’s desk. She glanced down on it with a frown.
“Okay, never mind, seems like you’ve already handled that. Find the other witnesses, get their statements. Come back here when you know for certain this happened.”
Loftin was about to leave happily with Soto, then Tracy called for him to stay back.
“Yes?” He questioned, his grin fading from his face. Tracy leveled her eyes with him.
“Loftin, must I remind you that in any case you take on, you are responsible for the victim and the evidence collected in your investigation?”
“Yes, I know-“
She held up a finger to silence him.
“This investigation is your responsibility and yours alone. If you happen to discover reliable, tangible evidence, and if you happen to persuade me into taking this to trial then this will be on your back, and your back alone. My reputation will not be tainted due to your incompetence. Is that clear?”
Her eyes sparkled with fire. Loftin had the urge to run out of the office. He swallowed, nodding slowly.
“Alright then. Grab Officer Jacobs, and go find that belt. Afterwards, I want you to question the list of witnesses. Bring them to me when you’re done.”
“Yes, Tracy.” Loftin said. He quickly smiled his thanks, and left the office.
“It’s MORGAN, and Merry Christmas.”
Loftin squinted through the grey tree trunks, his hand on his face as he looked at the building. It was much smaller than he had imagined and couldn’t see the regal image printed on so many local magazines. He didn’t understand why Barbra had always wanted to stay here for a weekend. The building was about two stories high with some of the decorative reddish bricks spray painted with obscene words. Cleaners stood on platforms, scrubbing it off so hard drops of soapy water rained on the officers. The lawn was covered in custodians wearing heavy coats, most of them having difficulty picking up broken glass, streamers, prying bottles of beer from the ice, and dislodging red solo cups filled with frozen questionable liquids. Soto whistled as he got out of the squad car.
“Wow, this place looks like shit.” He said, kicking a beer bottle into the snowy ground. Jacob nodded as he emerged from the back seat.
“This looks like after a party.”
“But why is it just now being cleaned up? Hasn’t it been almost three months?” Loftin muttered, side-stepping a janitor to reach the front doors. They were propped open, and the wet air smelled of vomit, beer, and sweat. Jacob gagged when they entered.
“I don’t know. Why did they wait until now?”
“Doesn’t matter, I just wish they cleaned it up sooner, though.”
“Ugh, this smells like after a party.”
Loftin walked further in, careful to avoid the stains and rotting food that attracted swarms of flies. The lights exposed the disaster of the party. In the middle of the foyer a woman was directing the custodians to clean up, with her own hands mopping the wood floor. A man stood next to her and picked up the trash with bright yellow gloves.
“Hello.” Loftin said when he approached them. The two jumped, eyes widening when the three showed their badges to them. Before Loftin could go, on the woman burst out crying.
“Oh, oh, I’m so sorry! I never meant for any of this to happen! We’ve grounded him and we’re making him clean up this mess with us, oh, please don’t arrest him though.” She cried. Jacobs and Soto took a step back, sharing a look at the woman’s outburst. The man stepped in next to her, his own eyes glistening with anger.
“Please, sir, please arrest him. We own this building and even though we won’t press charges against our own son, it would be better to have that knuckle head locked in a cell overnight.” He growled. Loftin raised his eyebrows, lowering the badge. He liked this guy.
“I am Detective Toby Loftin. I’m not here to arrest your son.” He said carefully. The couple let a go of a relieved sigh that was sucked back in quickly.
“Wait, then why are you here?” The man asked. Jacob held out his hand.
“I’m Officer John Jacobs, and we’re here to investigate a rape that happened at this location.”
The woman gasped, bringing her hand to her mouth and looking towards her husband. He looked speechless.
“Wait, are you insisting our son-“
“No man, this has nothing to do with your son.” Soto huffed. Loftin shot him a look and he quickly pulled a smile, offering his hand to the woman.
“Officer Jorge Soto.”
“Mrs. Wilson, though you can call me Carmen.”
Soto traded her hand for the man.
“Andy. Sorry, we just were expecting something to do with our party animal idiot for a son.” He scowled, shoving a moldy pizza into the trash bag. Soto grimaced.
“So you said you owned this building?” Loftin asked. Carmen nodded.
“Yes, this resort has been in our family for a while now, it’s the family’s only income.” She said with a sigh. Loftin raised his chin.
“This case we are investigating said the rape happened on September 16th. That was a Friday. Where were you then? Were you here?”
Carmen tightened her grip on the mop, sharing a look with her husband.
“No, we were in Peru for a cousin’s wedding. We left Drew in charge here for a week.” She said. Soto scratched his chin.
“Almost twenty one.” Andy interrupted, “does that idiot have anything to do with the rape case?” Loftin picked up a few streamers from the floor.
“That’s why I want to talk to him. Where is he?”
“Yes, yes of course. He is upstairs cleaning out the bathrooms and bedrooms.”
Loftin motioned for Soto and Jacob to look around, and followed Andy up the stairs. Avoiding trash piles and grumbling employees, Andy lead Loftin up to the second floor and pointed over to a tired-looking boy, picking up trash with gloved hands and breathing into a scarf tied around his neck.
“That’s him. You can go talk but I don’t want to see that kid.” He clapped a hand on Loftin’s shoulder, “please tell me if he has anything to do with this. If he does, I’ll wring that boy’s neck.”
Loftin nodded, slowly shrugging off Andy’s hand. He left the man standing in the corridor and approached Drew. He watched as the kid wrinkled his forehead when he picked up a beer bottle out, dripping with chunky substance.
“It’s disgusting, ain’t it?”
Drew looked up at Loftin, tossing in the bottle into a trash bag and yanked down the scarf.
“You here to tell me I’m living life wrong? My old man hired you to make me realize that partying in the resort is a wasteful thing to do?” He asked. Loftin shrugged.
“More or less.”
Drew chuckled dryly, ruffling the trash bag.
“Yeah, yeah, so what are they paying you? A few hundred? Thousand? Anything to get me in shape, that bastard always said.”
Loftin watched him scoop up trash and shove it into the bag. A party hat poked a hole into the plastic.
“You have parties often?”
“No. Well, yes, but this was the biggest one yet. I haven’t really thrown a wicked-ass party like that than junior year’s homecoming.” He licked his lips, smiling, “man, now that was insane.”
Loftin nodded slowly. Obviously this boy was just like his father said. While talking to him Loftin was glad he never had any kids. He probably would’ve shot himself if he ended up with a kid like this one.
“Do you know who you invited?”
“No. Well, I invited a few people from the dorms, and they have siblings from the high school, so then they invited people, then it all just stacked up.” He muttered.
“So you don’t know exactly who came?”
“Hell no, man. I have no idea. Some of the dorm guys tried to make, like, like a list thing-“
“Like what they do at bars and clubs?” Loftin asked. Drew nodded.
“Yeah, that. But it wasn’t working so then everyone just came in.”
Loftin sighed, looking around the corridor. Several bedrooms lined the halls with janitors filing back and forth carrying bags and clothes. Loftin eyed a purple shirt on the ground. He excused himself for a moment, pulling out his phone and dialing the precinct. They immediately answered after the first ring.
“Hello, this is the H-“
“Shut up, Nancy. Get me Robertson.”
The phone was left for a moment. Loftin waited impatiently, tapping his fingers on the wooden railing of the balcony. He could see Soto and Jacob rummage through the trash. He laughed as Soto picked up a purple bra, wrinkling his nose and tossing it at one of the passing janitors.
“This is Robertson?”
“Why the question, you not sure of your own name?”
“S-sorry sir, I just-“
“Just nothing. Tell me, get the copy of the report you did for James Smith.”
“Yes sir. Nancy already has it, do you want me-“
“Yes sir. James Smith lost a belt in one of the resort rooms in the morning of Saturday the 17th-“
“Shush, what color was it?”
“It was a thin black leather belt with a missing end that was sewed with a different material, but, sir why-“
He hung up, turning back around to see Drew in the doorway of one of the rooms. He tapped him on the shoulder.
“Yeah, dude?” Drew said, his scarf muffling his voice. Loftin pointed to the purple shirt that was still on the floor.
“What do you do with clothing items?” He ask. Drew shrugged.
“We toss them in a pile downstairs, near the laundry. Mom thought that the clothing left here can be donated since they had three months to go and get it, so we’ll be washing them.” He lifted his eyebrow.
“Wait, why do you want to know?”
Loftin turned on his heel and headed back down the stairs.
“I need some new pants.” He called back.
Soto and Jacob met Loftin at the bottom of the stairs. Both had grim faces and Soto was rubbing his hands together with heavy doses of sweet pea hand sanitizer. Loftin’s nose pushed up as the smell hit him.
“God, Soto, you smell like a mom.” He said, walking past them and towards the reception area. Soto held his palms out.
“I got it from Carmen.”
“That explains it.”
At reception Loftin leaned over the counter, squinting at the building map nailed to the back wall. Jacob looked back and forth between them.
“What are you looking for?”
Loftin didn’t answer. Instead he found a room with a bright pink text saying LAUNDRY above it.
“South hall. Let’s go.”
“Sit, can I ask where the hell we are going?” Jacob yelled, trying to keep pace with Loftin as he practically ran to the laundry room.
“Can or may? Shut up either way, we need to get to the laundry room. Now.”
“For what?” Soto wheezed.
“A belt. Now haul your ass.”
The laundry room was much larger than they expected. Maids hauled baskets of clothing in and out of industrial washing machines, on one side, and the other several of them took out steaming dry clothes from dryers. Soto whistled.
“All this from a party?” Jacobs gaped. A passing maid scoffed.
“Most of em’, but some of the clothes comes from the annual town clothing drive, and since this damned resort has the only industrial washing and drying machine we are tasked with washing and sending them away,” she huffed, balancing a basket of clothes on her hip. Loftin shooed her away with his hand.
“Yeah, yeah, where are your belts?” He asked. The maid motioned with her head towards a large bin of belts.
“There, sir. Take anything you may wish,” she rolled her eyes, “the less to send away the better.”
“I plan to,” he said, shoving past her to get to the bin. Soto watched her go.
“Belts? Why the hell do we need a belt?” He asked, glaring at the pile of clothes. Loftin rolled up his sleeves.
“You hear Wilson, right, dipshit? If we can get DNA samples from the belt we can already conclude that the rapist and the victim had intercourse, and we’re not just relying on a victim’s word. Now help me. Thin black leather belt with different material for the end. Search.”
Jacobs and Soto shared a glance.
“So, now you believe him?”
Loftin sighed, tossing his hands into the air in exasperation. Tracy stood behind her desk, her arms folded.
“Loftin, this doesn’t prove anything-“
“Yes it does, Tracy-“
“Alright, whatever, I don’t give a damn, Tracy, Wilson, Billy Bob Joe Jr. Look, the victim said that when the crime took place in that room, he was wearing a belt.”
“The belt doesn’t mean anything. If it had any evidence of DNA, htne maybe, but it looks as if it had been washed, or at least watered down. There are water stains all over it. There is nothing here that we can prove.”
Loftin fumed. His fists were hot white balls, his nails digging into his palm drew blood. He hated that she didn’t believe any of this. He hated that she doubted him.
“Tracy, for once, please. Just, please, listen to us. This rape took place,” he pleaded, trying to keep his voice from rising in anger, “please, Tracy.”
She stared at him for a long time. He could see the emotions flickering in her eyes. Once upon a time she had been his support. She had been right there with him. He needed that now. Her glasses started to slide off her face. He licked his lips.
“Do you believe that maybe he’s telling the truth?”
Her throat contracted.
Happiness flooded him but quickly receded when she took off the glasses, rubbing her eyes until they were red.
“Loftin, I do believe, but I need evidence. If you can’t bring me any physical evidence, then talk to the witnesses. Make sure everything they say checks out. Make sure that nothing is left out of contexts. If it all checks out-”
“Yes, if, Loftin, if it all checks out, and it is something I can work with, then, yes. We will go to trial.”
As soon as the words left her mouth Loftin bounded out of the office, heading straight for Soto and Jacobs desk. They stopped in mid-game of paper basketball to catch the phones Loftin tossed at them.
“Jesus, Toby, what is this?” Jacobs asked as he fumbled to steady the phone. Loftin didn’t answer, only pulling out the case file from his desk.
“Guys, we need to find the phone numbers of these witnesses. Now. And hurry, we need those statements as soon as possible.”
“Okay, sorry, sorry, but, why do we need them? I doubt they are home, remember, it’s Christmas Eve.”
Soto reminded him. Loftin paused, cursing to himself. Of course. Then everyone would want to have a peaceful evening. Which means everyone would be home.
“Good idea, Soto. Find the addresses. We’ve got a lot of witnesses to question, so we’re going to spilt up for this.”
“What? Sir, I don’t think that’s what Soto meant-“
“Jacobs, shut up.”
James Smith. Ori Ferriera. Chloe Montau. Drew Wilson.
“Do we have anyone else we need to question?” Loftin asked as he looked out the windshield. Soto fumbled with the papers in his hands.
“Well, Miss Montau did give the names of Tony White and her brother Jordan Montau, while Miss Ferriera gave the names of Levi Tomas, Shelby Cooper, Riley Shepard, Jasmine Yates, Roman Chainani, Zoe Mark, Andrew Choi, Chance Malcolm-“
“Alright, alright, shut up. Are those the names of the individuals present at the party?”
“Yes sir. Montau said Tony White and Jordan Montau were with James until eleven p.m.”
“Did they give those statements, or did she?”
“She did. She said she ‘was not with them for most of the night but at around eleven she saw both in the party pool. James was not with them.”
“Were they drunk?”
“No sir, she said she asked them and they both denied it. She also said that they did not drink much, though James did.”
“So they were both there when he did get drunk?”
“Can we get address for both of them?”
Soto made a face. Loftin shot a look at him with his eyebrow raised.
“What? What are you making that face for?”
“Oh, sorry, sir, it’s just…” he trailed off. Loftin felt like he was so close and now Soto was reluctant to talk it him. He almost reached over to bash his face in.
“Spit it out!”
“Okay, sorry, it’s just that both Tony White and Jordan Montau are in…Wisconsin.” Soto scrambled for more words as Loftin began to grip the steering wheel, “but Chl-I mean, Miss Montau gave us Jordan’s phone number. Jacobs already tried to call but it went to voicemail.”
“Do you know when they will be back.”
“Montau said January 14th.”
“Damn it.” Loftin cursed under his breath. Two statements they wouldn’t be getting soon.
‘What about the others?” He asked. Soto flipped through his file again.
“You mean about Levi Tomas, Shelby Cooper, Riley Shepard, Jasmine Yates, Rom-“
“Yes, yes, them.”
“They are the friends of Ori Ferriera, all were present at the party, though most of them were drinking.”
Loftin sighed. If they were drinking, that means that they were drunk. If they were drunk, they couldn’t be sure of their statements. Tracy would have his head if he didn’t bring any stable evidence soon, despite the other claims from Chloe and Ori. It wasn’t enough. He needed something else. Just then, his phone rang. Loftin reached to the backseat, feeling for his phone.
“Sir, do you want me to get-“
“No. Shut up.”
He came to a red light. Grateful, he grabbed his phone. Jacobs.
“Hey, it’s Jacobs.”
“Yeah, I guessed.”
“Sarcasm. Okay, fine. Do you think that maybe we need to question the rapist now?”
He looked to Soto. He shook his head.
“Where did you go?”
“Soto emailed me a list of the possible witnesses at the party at the time of the rape. I was able to question only two others who were home for the holidays – Shelby Cooper and Andrew Choi. I have their statements right here.”
“Perfect.” Loftin said into the phone, then turning to Soto he relayed Jacobs words. Soto agreed.
“Yes, now is the time to question…the girl. I can’t remember her name.”
“Good job. You’re supposed to be a detective.”
Relieved from his annoying voice, Loftin dug back into his bag, fumbling for his phone. He called the receptionist office despite the pleas from both Soto and Jacobs to not use the phone while he was driving. Loftin ignored them.
“Hello, this is-“
“Shut up. Nancy. Get me Robertson.”
Nancy sighed with annoyance.
Jacobs yelped when the car swerved a little to the right.
“Sir, please, can you just let one of us handle the call? I know you’re –watch the roAD WATCH THE ROAD – ugh, okay, I know you’re very busy so I can just take the call so you don’t kill us.”
Loftin didn’t care. He tossed Jacobs the phone, back to focusing on the steering wheel. It didn’t matter who had it. They were both going to screw up what Loftin needed. Robert’s voice echoed faintly from the phone. Jacobs turned it over in his hands.
“A flip phone? Really?”
“Shut up and answer it.”
Jacobs rolled his eyes, clearing his throat.
“Hello? Detective Loftin?”
Jacobs cleared his throat. Before he could speak Loftin hissed at him, “ask her to get the home address of our suspected rapist. I think it was Amber or something.”
“Hey, Alex,” he batted Loftin away, who gave him a stink eye, “yeah, it’s John. John Jacobs.” He rolled his eyes, “John Jacobs, I work night shift at Lombardi’s with you on Friday’s. Yes, hi. Listen, Loftin is driving – yeah, he called you while he was driving – not important – but we need you to look up the address of the recent male rape case rapist. Yeah. Mh hm. I think her name was…”
He glanced over at Soto, who was shrugging.
‘Amber?’ He mouted.
“-Amber, we think. Oh. It was Anna? Anna Padilla. Yeah, whatever. We just need to know where she lives. Yes, we need to talk to her. Yeah, we’ll try to do that. Yeah, just email it to my phone, Loftin has a flip-phone. Yeah, yeah, alright, bye.”
Finally, Jacobs handed the phone back to Loftin. He shoved it back into his bag. He saw from the corner of his eye the look Soto and Jacobs shared. To Loftin it seemed they always shared looks.
“What?” He asked. Soto shrugged.
“Do you really think it’s a good idea to be investigating this case?” He asked, “I mean, we’ve had cases before where people pretend to be assaulted, raped, hell, we were even working on a case about a girl and her family who faked her own kidnapping to frame their neighbor. What if this is just another one of those?”
Loftin stayed silent for a moment. In truth it could’ve very well been another attention case, but Loftin has always known when those cases took place. Details were too accurate. Victims always blamed one person – and if the police had another suspect in mind they always threw a fit. And always someone who knew it was set up would come forward to admit the lies.
But this one was something the HTPD had never seen before. A rape case.
Male was the victim.
A female was the rapist.
It didn’t matter how big or how small the city was where they worked – they have had one case of every type expect one like this. It was weird. Loftin didn’t think anything like this could be faked. Even if Wilson doubted him and his tactics, as well as his past reputation, he knew this time this victim wasn’t faking. If he was, he was putting himself on the line for humiliation, harassment. It would be a blood bath if there was a trial.
“I do not want the department’s reputation to be tarnished just because of a case that seems unlikely,” he said, “even if it is odd, there is always a chance that it is something we need to take seriously.”
Silence engulfed the car. It bumped along the road. When they were able to stop at a gas station, Jacobs checked his phone to find an email with the address link to the rapist’s house. Loftin pulled out his own bag to copy it, making Soto snicker.
“What?” Loftin asked again, annoyed.
“I don’t recognize that bag, sir. Where’d you get it? Did Barbra buy it for you?”
“I got from your mother’s closet, now shut the hell up. Jacobs, where does the girl live?”
Jacobs looked uncertain as he gazed out the windshield.
“Sir, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job-“
“Then don’t, and just tell me where the girl lives.”
“But, sir, it’s Christmas Eve. Don’t you think that it would be, well, intrusive to suddenly come on them like that?”
Loftin glanced at Jacobs through the mirror, smiling.
“No. Give me the address, or I’m kicking you out of the car.”
The Padilla home looked normal. The lawn was neatly cut, though dead, and it was not covered in garbage, nor did the bricks that steadied the house have obscene words painted across them. Two modern cars sat in the driveway, shining with the colorful Christmas lights hanging off the gutters. Through the windows, the officers could see movements inside, as well as a towering green Christmas tree. Loftin turned off the ignition, relaxing into his seat. Jacobs wiped his window free of condensation.
“Should we stay in the car as to not frighten her?” He asked. Loftin nodded.
“Yeah, that would be best. Lay low so the family can’t peek out their windows and spy on you.” He said as he exited the car and tossing Soto the car keys. The chill wind iced him to the bones, so he jogged up the driveway, careful to not slip, and rang the doorbell. He could hear music from inside play loudly over speakers. After a few minutes of stomping his feet impatiently and from the cold, he knocked on the door. Still nothing. He knew they were in there. Did they see him though? Did they suspect who he was? No, no, that’s not possible. He waited a few more minutes. The wintery air was getting a little too cold for him to bear.
He wondered if he should just kick the door down, but as soon as the thought crossed his mind a young girl passed by the front door window. She stopped walking, gazing up at Loftin. He tried to pull a smile on his frozen lips.
“Mama, someone is at the door.” He could hear the girl call. The music was turned down. A plump woman who looked to be in her forties approached the door. She gathered the girl in her arms, and then opened it for Loftin. Her smile was as warm as the air inside. It melted his nose, which had frozen in some snot. He was too cold to even show her his badge.
“Hello, welcome to the Padilla home.” She said with a cheerful voice. Loftin just nodded, too cold to speak. He woman noticed this and stepped aside to invite him in.
“Must be in the negatives out there.” A gruff voice spoke from deeper inside the house. The woman closed the door, helping Loftin with his coat.
“Sure feels like it,” the woman said after helping Loftin, “hello, dear, I’m Jane Padilla.”
“Toby Loftin.” Loftin said, holding out his gloved hand to Jane. She took it with another smile.
“Here, come into the kitchen. You look positively frozen, yes you do, I’ll make you a cup of hot chocolate, okay, come, have a cup and sit down.”
Loftin at first refused. He didn’t want to give this family a false sense that he was just some random man. Jane’s kindness towards him made him fearful for future problems. The heavy smell of turkey and chocolate floated in the air. His stomach growled without his permission. Barbra never made hot chocolate, much less a Christmas dinner. Jane’s eyes widened at the sound.
“Oh, come and have some dinner too. We’re in the middle of our traditional dinner, and I would love to have you fill your tummy.”
Tummy? Who the hell said tummy anymore? Then the scent of roasted meat hit him in the nose. He didn’t care for long. His stomach wanted to agree. He followed her into the kitchen, seeing the piles of cooking dishes in the sinks and an array of foods were being piled onto a plate by a much younger man.
“Oh, this is Bryce,” Jane introduced as they walked past. Byrce just flicked his hand in a lazy hello as he reached for another bread roll. At a dining table on the other side of the room sat six other people. Five looked like they were related to Jane, the other was another young man who held hands with a teenage girl. The little girl who greeted him at the door raced past him to sit in her own seat next to the teenager and someone who looked to be her mother. They all had heaping plates like that of Bryce, and hadn’t quieted their conversations despite Loftin’s presence there. Loftin had to swallow the water pooling into his mouth.
“Well, this is everyone. You’ve already met Bryce and I, but this is my daughter Lily, her husband Mike along with their two other children Diana and Anna.” She said, pointing to each of them in turn. Loftin was slightly startled to see Jane point to the teenage girl as Anna. She didn’t look much older than 16 or 17. Anna. He had known from the report she was young but now just looking into her face it didn’t seem real to him. It baffled him. The young man who sat next to Anna got up, stretching out his hand.
“Hi, I’m Zack. I’m not really related to them, just dating their daughter.” He said with a goofy grin. Loftin almost grinned himself. Here was another witness. Here was someone that was on the report, on the list. Here was someone that could help. But then it dimmed. Zack was dating Anna. Obviously he would take her side. He tried to quickly search through his memory for the witness list James had offered him. Wasn’t the name Zack on it? Loftin hoped this was a different kid as he shook his hand.
“I’m Detective Toby Loftin.” He said to the family. Jane raised her eyes up into her forehead.
“Oh, Detective? I thought you were a new church member. Well, anything I can do for you?” She asked.
“Well, I’m very thankful for your hospitality and your kindness, Mrs. Padilla,” Loftin started, tearing his eyes away from a mound of bacon green beans on the table, “but I have to inform you I am a Detective of the HTPD, here to investigate a crime.” He held up his badge. The small chatter the family made came to a halt. Jane furrowed her eyebrows.
“Did someone do something? Are we considered witnesses? I don’t remember seeing anything,” she turned to the table, “did any of you get caught by the police? Did you see anything?” All of them except for a teenage girl shook their heads. The girl set down her fork, her eyes digging into Loftin’s head. He shifted uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry, Jane, but I’m here to talk to Anna Padilla.”
“Why?” Zack asked. His voice was hard. Loftin steadied his feet, preparing for the worst.
“She’s been accused of rape.”