All homes had a different smell. Some smelled like bakeries, other of burnt toast from that morning, sometimes perfume and deodorant, rotten pizza, Chinese food, old ramen noodles. Something that gives it almost like a territory marking. No, it would be gross if someone just started to pee all over the house, but something that when the door is opened the guest knows which house they’re in based on how it smells like.
College dorms were not like that.
Standing in the hallway, Loftin had a sense of déjà vu as he covered his nose to protect his senses from the overwhelming stench of rotting food and perfume. Trash buckets outside the dorms were overflowing with garbage and moldy crusts of pizza. The floor was littered in McDonald’s take out bags with soda cans lining the entrances of the dorms. It was worse than the apartments. It was worse than the city dump.
“Hi, can I help you?”
Loftin lifted his watering eye to a girl who seemed immune to the horridness around them. She was smiling, though it looked forced, and her hands twitched as she held a clipboard in one hand while the other smoothed back her hair. Nervous tick.
“Are you a father? Most of our students are out since it’s about lunchtime but I can bet your daughter is somewhere around here.” She said, looking towards her clipboard. Loftin breathed through his mouth.
“No, I’m Detective Loftin of the HTPD, here to question a Zoe Mark?” He stuttered. He wanted to pull out his badge but to do that he would have to take his hand off his nose. He was not willing to sacrifice himself for that. Instead, Loftin flashed the visitor’s sticker that was pasted onto his jacket, alone side the clip on badge. The girl looked like she didn’t believe him.
“Sir, we get a lot of men coming up here pretending to be government officials as well as police officers, so could you show me your badge so that I may know I’m not letting in some rapist into the dorms?” She asked. Her edge was getting sharper in her voice. Loftin sighed, and, breathing in through his mouth, he held his breath, unplugged his nose and flashed his badge. She examined it closely. Too long. He felt his face turn purple.
“Can you show me some form of I.D? And please, I don’t accept membership cards as forms of I.D.”
Loftin rolled his eyes but still dug in his pocket for his wallet. He felt like his lungs were going to burst. After showing the girl his driver’s license, she nodded, satisfied, and smoothed out her hair again before looking down at her clipboard.
“Miss Mark is in room 403. Be careful, since no one is taking the chore list seriously there are some beer bottles on the floor. Please watch your step.” She chirped. Loftin nodded his thanks. He practically sprinted to the other end of the hallway, his eyes roaming around the bronze plaques screwed into the walls.
It was the only room where the trash can that was stationed outside was empty, with the carpet around it completely void of fast food wrappers or empty ramen noodle cups. Loud music echoed from behind a closed door, making the wood jump each time as a loud drum solo pierced the air.
“Zoe Mark? You in there?” He called as he knocked on the door.
The music stopped. Silence.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Detective Loftin from the HTPD. I’m here to question you. Please open the door.”
Several voices whispered frantically from inside, then the click of the doors lock as someone unlocked it. As soon as the door was open someone grabbed onto his collar and tugged him inside. The door shut again. Inside, the room was something out of a magazine. The theme was painfully obviously pink and yellow on one side of the room, while the other was blue and green. The window that was seated in the middle was spilt between a pink curtain on the right side and a blue curtain on the left. On the floor was a brunette, and a blonde stood next to him near the door. They smiled innocently at him.
“You don’t have to plug your nose in here.” The brunette said with a knowing smile. Loftin warily unplugged it, and was greeted with the fresh smell of oranges and linen. He breathed in deeply.
“I think our room is the only one on campus that isn’t infested with trash and rats.”
“I’m pretty sure. Did you see Sara’s room? She had her pet mouse roaming free in old Chick-Fill-A leftovers.”
“I know, right?”
Just then, a pink wardrobe moved by itself.
“Hey,” a male’s voice chimed out of it, “can I come out now?”
Loftin raised his eyebrows at the two girls. The blonde blushed, reaching her foot out the kick the wardrobe.
“Hey, I was just asking.” It muttered. Loftin didn’t ask any questions about it. He held up his badge.
“Hi, I’m Detective Loftin of the HTPD,” by now it felt like a line he had to rehearse in a play, “I am here to ask a Zoe Mark some questions.”
“Yes, we know who you are,” The blonde girl said but before Loftin could say anything, the wardrobe door opened and out tumbled a half-naked boy.
“Roman, what the hell?” The blonde squealed, pushing him away from Loftin. The boy was red in the face with embarrassment.
“Dude, that’s a cop. Alex, did you rat us out?” He hissed towards the brunette. Alex held up her hands in defense.
“No, I did not. You know we would both get in trouble if the campus police found you here.” She shot back.
The three started to argue loudly. Loftin resisted turning around and walking straight back out, but he needed Zoe. He also didn’t want to leave the fresh smell of oranges behind.
“Hey, shut up, all of you.” Loftin said loudly. They stopped. Loftin sighed, letting the oranges calm him before he addressed the blonde.
“You’re Zoe, I’m guessing?”
She nodded. He turned to the boy.
“And you’re Roman?”
He smiled. Loftin sighed again. This was good. This was great. He had both of them. He could get two statements.
“And I’m Alex,” the brunette said, raising her hand. Loftin glanced around the room, trying to find a table or some chairs. He could only see the beds.
“Do you have somewhere we could sit down? I need to ask you both a few questions.”
“About what?” Roman asked. Loftin smiled.
“About a rape.”
The linoleum floor reeked of citrus blend Clorox. It was midday, but the cafeteria was almost completely deserted. Empty tables dotted the room, with only two or three students sitting at them eating early lunch. Loftin sat at one of the tables, watching an elderly janitor clean with a soggy mop. Loftin folded his arms in.
“So I actually need to talk to both of you,” he pointed to Zoe and Roman, “if you wouldn’t mind.”
“They’re serving waffles and sausage at the counter.” Zoe nudged Alex, “you should go get some.”
Alex huffed, but left them anyways and headed to the counter. Loftin fiddled with his thumbs.
“Do you know who James Smith is?”
They both nodded.
“Yeah, we know him. Well, not know, but we know Zack and Zack and James are friends, right?”
Roman frowned, “I heard they got into a fight.”
A fight? James got into a fight? Loftin didn’t want to really bother with it. A fight could mean anything.
“Do you know who Anna Padilla is?”
“Do either of you remember a party that happened three months ago during September?”
That time Roman chuckled.
“Dude, there were a lot of parties during August. It was the end of the summer, Zoe and I went to every single one that we were invited to.”
“He’s exaggerating,” Zoe cut it, placing her hand onto his, “we only went to one party, the homecoming football game whatever.”
“At the Trace Ridge Resort?”
“I was informed by a Riley Shepard that you had pictures of the party and videos were taken on your phone throughout the night, is that true?”
“Yeah, Zoe and I run an Instagram page full of party pictures and stuff.” Roman said. Zoe blushed, pushing her hair behind her ear.
“We take lots of pictures of people, videos, they always request that we take pictures or videos of them since we have a huge following so we have them pay us about five dollars to post them and then give them a shout out or something.”
“Oh, so you’re entrepreneurs?”
They shared a look.
“I guess, yeah.” Zoe shrugged, “but what does this have to do with the rape? Did the rapist ask us for photos? Do you want to see the Instagram page”
Loftin held up a hand to quiet her down. She did, but her eyebrows were furrowed in confusion.
“I do need to see your Instagram.” He said. Roman now looked confused.
“Wait, why do you need our phones? The page is public?”
“My team and I have already searched through your Instagram page but we believe that maybe your photos have evidence we need to fortify our case against the rapist.” He paused, scratching his chin, “you said you took pictures of anybody who asked, and that you also took videos, right?”
“So were there any pictures or videos that you didn’t upload?”
Zoe nodded, “oh yeah, there would be people we accidentally caught in the background and they started complaining, and so to avoid any drama with them we just don’t upload the photo. In fact…” she dug into her pocket, fumbling around then handed him a sparkly pink phone. It was already unlocked.
“You can check the photos, if it helps any.” She said. Loftin flicked through the photos. Then a video caught his eye. It was Zoe, Roman, Alex, and some other students. He clicked on it. Loud sounds echoed from it. He could tell Zoe was saying something, but the music was so loud he couldn’t hear what it was. Lights flashed, music thumped, he could feel it shaking the phone.
“What’s this?” He asked. Zoe looked over the table at the phone. A smile bloomed on her face.
“Oh, that was just for fun. We took a video with some of our other friends – oh, hey, there’s Zack.”
Loftin watched as Zack appeared into the frame. He was saying something, waving his hands in the air as he drank from a bottle of beer. Loftin peered closer into the frame. Lights flashed. Music thumped. His eyes widened.
“What?” Zoe asked, glancing between him and the phone. Loftin didn’t answer her. Instead, he pulled the phone closer to him.
“Can I borrow this for today?”
“Yeah, sure, go ahead.”
“Thanks.” Loftin said breathlessly before he hurriedly dashed from the cafeteria, phone clutched in his hand. Tracy had to see this.
She stared at the phone screen. Her eyes were furrowed, and her finger rubbed her chin. Loftin sat across the desk. He was anxious. She had to see it.
‘I don’t see it? What do you want me to see?” She asked, handing the phone back to him. He groaned.
She raised her eyebrow.
“Ugh, Morgan, look. Top left corner at around the two-thirty mark. Look closely.”
Tracy bit her lip but did what he asked. A few minutes later she rubbed her eyes under her glasses. Loftin had to bit his lip from screaming out loud. She was there. She was dancing with him. She was kissing him. All in the video. They had her.
“You saw it, right?”
He grinned. Tracy shifted in her chair, still clutching the phone in her hand.
His grin died a little. That edge in her voice.
“What were the statements you got from Anna when you went to question her?” She asked. Loftin crinkled his nose.
“She had said that she wasn’t with James during the party. Zack backed her alibi by saying she was with him as well with the witnesses, though when questioned those witnesses couldn’t remember Anna or Zack.”
“I see. Then this evidence doesn’t show the rape. It shows that Anna lied to us about being with James at the time. It does not back up the fact or provide a stable reason for the jury to believe that Anna raped him.”
“But is there a way to make them believe with these witness statements and the video.”
“I believe so, but it will be difficult in making them believe anything other than her being guilty for purgatory.”
His grin returned, wider this time.
“Then we go to trial, and we make them believe.”