THE UNCLEARED - THOMAS PLUCK
We watch cop shows because we need to believe you can figure out the whole human disaster.
But it just isn’t so.
In reality, with all the manpower at the law’s disposal- beat cops, detectives, profilers, criminal psychologists, forensic anthropologists and bloodhounds - 37% of homicides remain uncleared. Cleared means it led to a prosecution. Cleared exceptionally is when they know who did it but can’t prosecute, like the guy’s already dead or in jail, or the D.A. won’t risk his perfect record because he wants to be Senator someday. One death or a million, when we’re murdered, we’re all statistics. Either you’re “cleared,” or a cold case haunting a retired cop, his hobby on rainy days.
My mother is one of them.
I wonder if knowing would be worse. I’m driven like that. When something needs doing, I feel insects gnawing at my edges until I things get done. Watching a guy smolder in the chair wouldn’t bring Mom back.
But it would be over.
She was selling our house. She became a real estate agent after Maggie and I left for college. She’d been so proud when she passed her tests and bought her pantsuits, so excited about showing the old place to her first client. When she didn’t come home, my father drove to the old house and found her in the bathtub. Bloody and beaten to a pulp. He called me at school.
“Jared, are you sitting down?”
I’d never heard his voice shake like that before. He was never much for emotional talk. Not distant, just reserved. But we both cried like babies. Said the stuff you say when life rips a chunk out of you: It’ll all be alright. I can’t believe this is happening. When they get this bastard, we’ll put him in the ground.
I bet you wished that was true. That I went into law enforcement. That I dropped English and majored in Criminal Justice, working my way to the basement at Quantico, so I can chase serial killers.
But it just isn’t so.
Dad remarried and moved to Alaska. He raises sled dogs, and sends hunting photos. Maggie interns for an architectural firm in Vancouver, and I’m a school teacher, like Mom always wanted to be. I’m the hockey coach, and a volunteer fireman for my town. A new husband, and a soon to be proud father. The old house rots. Dad wouldn’t sell it. I hoped it would be swallowed by a sinkhole, like it never existed. I nailed the windows shut, but kids still break in to drink on summer nights.
When I got the alert on my radio, 324 Hawthorne Terrace, my heart raced. I put the red light on the dash and drove to the fire house.
I rode on the tanker in full gear. Memories drifted through my mind like embers from a burning roof. It was in wooded part of town, by the old abandoned mental hospital we used to sneak into for thrills. My old house, the murder scene, had taken its place in adolescent folklore.We had to check, make sure it was empty.
Chief Pulaski wouldn't let me go in. “If something goes bad, it’ll haunt you. Work the truck.”
He’d lost guys before. Maybe he thought I’d see my mother in the flames, and never walk out of there.
It was empty. The kids who set the fire made it out.
It was over. The last memory turned to ash.
During drill a week later, Chief pulled me aside. His big walrus mustache was shaking like my old man’s voice on the phone had five years ago.
“They found bones,” he said. “Lots of them. Little ones.”
Forensics crews dug up every inch. They found eleven in all.
Women. Children. Statistics.
The cops asked me for Dad’s last known address. I gave them the letters.
I didn’t tell my wife about the bones. I told her Dad was missing, and I booked a flight to Alaska.
“They’ll find him,” she told me.
Not if I find him first.
BIO: Thomas Pluck is a writer living in New Jersey with his wife and cats. He trains in mixed martial arts and is working on his first novel. His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Morning News, Pulp Metal, Beat To A Pulp and Flashes in the Dark. He has work upcoming in Crimefactory.