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Student Literary Contest Winner: Emily Owen

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Excerpt from: Three Twenty-Three

The call comes in at 3:23 in the morning. A shrill metallic ringing that stabs the silence of the small apartment, harshly ripping him from an already restless sleep. Instantly, a nauseating dread fills his stomach and he hesitates. Nobody calls with good news at 3:23 in the morning.

They avoid telling him before finally giving in as the sun rises, when the dawn sky is blood red. He feels his body go numb and his legs collapse as he sinks into the chair at his desk, squeezing his fists. He tries to squeeze his pain away until he feels his dull nails rip open the calloused skin of his palms, but he just squeezes even harder as eight small drops of blood stain his jeans. He doesn’t notice, but even if he had he wouldn’t care.

He tries to understand what he’s just been told. Reviewing the details of the crime she has been accused of. Stabbing. Prospect Park. Middle of the night.

Unknown female attacker. Thought to be Lucy Pierce. Over and over again like some perverse nursery rhyme. His mantra is interrupted by an irritated cough his signal to respond, “Detective Chase?”

He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding in and looks up at the cougher, “Sorry Captain, can you say that one more time?”

“Do you think your partner is capable of murder?”

“I honestly don’t know anymore,” he stares blindly at his scuffed shoes. The ones she helped pick out. She had said something about them looking nice enough but ensured him they would still be comfortable, because she knows how he likes to chase after suspects. ‘What can you do, it’s in your name’ was her favorite joke to make, and by far her most successful. Then, he looks at the crack in the wall he assumes is from someone much more violent than he could ever be. He looks at the clock, praying to a god he doesn’t believe in that this would end. He looks anywhere but where she sits, waiting for someone to prove her innocence- or her guilt.

They motion for her to come over for what is supposed to seem like an impromptu interview, an interview that the Captain is visibly trying too hard to make casual. She feels embarrassed for him, knows he could do better. But, she also knows its part of a well choreographed dance. They’re testing her, seeing how she reacts when accused by people she cares about.

“Do you have anything to tell us, Detective Pierce?” She looks directly at him, “Are you looking for a confession, Captain?”

“That depends, Lucy. Do you have something to confess to?” She knows they think she does. At this point it’s almost as if it’s expected of her, thought of as an inevitable. She can already hear the whispers; “knowing her history” and “considering that family of hers”, then “we all knew it was coming”. They’ve all just been waiting for her to snap.

She comes from a family of killers, a family of butchers, a family of monsters. But her partner was always there to tell her, again and again, that no, she is not like them. She is good and she is decent. But now, he can barely stomach the look on her face. It isn’t a face of confusion. It’s a face of guilt.

She watches him realize that he might have been wrong. The only person who’s ever cared, ever known all of her secrets, and the only one who believes she is good. She pleads with her eyes, desperately trying to make him understand. But the eyes that stare back are cold.

The Captain leaves without preamble, but they stay. Without words, they stare at each other,

once inseparable, with absolutely nothing left to say.

And then, out of the corner of her eye she sees it. She sees his stoic face fall. He shakes away the shiny tears threatening to drop. He doesn’t cry. He is a machine. He keeps strong through everything. He is her support and he doesn’t cry and then, he tastes salt water.

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Student Literary Contest Winner: Emily Owen