Friday, April 15, 2016

Playback

Feb. 26, 2016

Beginnings

They shoot the white girl first. Then the old black woman. The five-year-old boy next. Then his mother. They systematically execute everyone on the bus.  I rewind the tape and watch how they move. Something is off, and it makes my brain itch as I watch but I can't put my fingers on it. Like they are super-imposed on the video. They shoot the white girl first. They are clearly part of the scene.

I can't see their faces, and there's no reason why. There were no masks on, no hoods, and it wasn't the lighting or even the quality of the video, but my eyes could not discern faces. Whenever we isolate images to look at them, the picture is distorted, as though someone had dipped fingers in grease and smeared it over where the faces would go.

What was worse was that no one at the precinct could identify when this happened. We had found the bus company, but there was no sign of a single murder, let alone a wholesale slaughter.

"Rosen, you have to give it a rest," said Blake. He filled the doorway, bending down to peer into the room. The guys called him the BFG. You'd think someone of his size would be terrifying, but Billy Blake had a way about him. He could get people to talk - he had kind eyes and wasn't afraid to find the good in the worst kinds of people. The rookies would watch some of his interviews with pedophiles, rapists and sadistic murders and clench their fists and spit about how they could never do that. But the BFG had more convictions under his belt than half the department put together. Because not only can you talk to Blake, you want to talk to him. He had warm brown eyes, with the types of crinkles that told jokes and held laughter. Eyes that didn't tell the perp that they were a piece of shit, but that they had just made a mistake. They would forget the cameras, forget the microphones and tell the BFG all their wrongs. Some would cry. Some would brag. Some whispered it quietly. But in the end it was recorded and went to trial.

And it wasn't an act. He tried to look beneath the layer of slime on some of the people who sat in the interview chairs and really see what made them tick. He could see the abused kid. The crushing loneliness. The need to be understood. And he connected with them.  A perp can smell insincerity from down the block. And though he would take their words and use them to lock these sick people away for years, these guys never seemed to attach the bad feeling to Blake. They would shake his hand, some would call him from jail just to talk.

The smile on my lips felt plastered on.

"I know, Blakey. But this is driving me up the wall. The guys at computer crimes say the video is legit. The bus is real. We've got the number, the drive - hell the names of his wife and kids and third cousins - everything, but it’s been in service every day and there have been no incidents. They let us review all of the surveillance video they have on file – a year’s worth. It does't make sense," I said, pushing some of my limp brown hair out of my face. I picked up my coffee mug and took a pull. The liquid was cold, but it was still caffeinated. "I'm gonna head over there and talk to the manager. L-T said I could ride the route, see if anything comes of that. You want to go for a trip?"

A smile creased Blake's face, but he was shaking his head.

"I'd love to, Rosie, but it's Sara's birthday and I can't miss this one," he said.

"Jeez, get out of here Blake. Give Sara a kiss for me," I said.

He ducked back out of the office and I could hear him swipe his card and the click of the magnetic locks as he left the building. I rewound the video.

#

The manager was a small, overworked man with thinning hair, and narrow eyes that gave him a scheming, rat-like quality.

“Look, lady – I don’t know why you have to do this. The owner okayed it so you can ride the fucking bus. If it had been up to me, I would say you can piss up a rope with no warrant – just sayin’- but that ain't my call. Don’t bother Harry too much while he’s driving. He has actual work to do,” he said. His voice was high and nasally and I inwardly said a prayer for all of his coworkers.

“Thanks. I’ll stay out of his way,” I said.

The bus was actually pretty nice. Velour seats with rainbow graphics against the gray plush. Each had its own little television screen for the movie. I sat in one of the seats that had an emergency exit and a good view of the driver and the door. The vehicle was dotted with passengers stowing bags, settling kids, flipping through magazines or browsing on their phones.

My phone rang and buzzed. I pulled it from my belt.

“Detective Rosen,” I said.

“Rosie, where are you?” it was Blake and he sounded out of sorts. I had never heard him sound out of sorts.

The bus lurched forward, and I reached  to touch the seat in front of me to steady myself and happened to catch the eye of an elderly black woman and felt an odd pull in my stomach.

“Vasquez called me from the computer unit. They were able to date the video, but it didn’t make sense. But it made me feel funny when he told me – especially with you going out there so I wanted you to know,” he said.

The lights flickered on the bus as we drove through town, and static squealed on my phone and I had to remove it from my ear. I saw them manifest.   It was like the shadows were pulled from every corner of the bus – it darkened around where they appeared and the sound it made was alien and excruciating. There were three - I knew there would be three.

I didn’t need the BFG to tell me what date they found on the video.

They shoot the white girl first.

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