It was Saturday night, and the sun had just gone down, creating that twilight that leaves you wondering whether you should have your headlights turned on yet or not. Mark Evans didn't have to make that choice, as he was in the process of pulling into his garage, located on a quiet residential street in Sharpsburg. In a moment the slim, dark-haired man emerged from the side door carrying his garment bag, briefcase and laptop case, long experience allowing him to manage the three bulky items with ease. One didn't travel as much as he was forced to, without developing this type of skill.
He unlocked and entered the side door of his home, but didn't bother to call out to his wife, Lisa, to let her know he was there; he already knew she wasn't home. Instead, he walked through to the living room with his briefcase and laptop, having deposited his garment bag at the foot of the stairs leading up to the second floor of their modest, but comfortable, home. He set the two items on the sofa before removing his topcoat, which he then carried to the closet near the front door, where he hung it on its accustomed hanger.
Only now, with both hands free and in the comfort of his own home, did he remove his jacket and tie, and unbutton the top two buttons on his white shirt. He didn't normally wear such formal business attire, but today he'd returned from a regional meeting of managers working for his employer, ABC Industries. Technically he wasn't in management, but his role as the most knowledgeable systems analyst on staff mandated that he had to attend the meetings in Pittsburg. His immediate supervisor was a good man at organizing the personnel, but he knew virtually nothing about the computer systems that let their business operate smoothly.
He could have been home the night before, but that wouldn't have fit with his plans. Instead he had told his wife that the meeting was followed by a series of workshops that would last the weekend, and that he would be returning on Monday. He had his reasons for telling her that, and had been forced to waste time for the majority of the day so that he wouldn't return home too early. He also wished he had been able to pack more comfortable clothing for this trip, but if he had done so Lisa might have wondered why he needed to do that; he never took anything but his dress clothes to these regularly scheduled business meetings.
Now that he was at home, his first step would be to go have a shower and then change into something a little more comfortable. 20 minutes after disappearing upstairs with his garment bag, he returned to the main floor dressed, wearing his more normal jeans and polo shirt, and looking very refreshed from his quick shower.
The next half-hour was spent choosing, reheating, and then eating a meal comprised of leftovers from the refrigerator. Lisa was a good cook, and even the leftovers made a good meal. His meal was washed down with a bottle of light premium beer, one of his few vices. By the time he had finished the bottle of beer he had moved to the living room, where he was now stretched back in a La-Z-Boy chair, reading the front page of the local newspaper. To any casual observer he was a typical husband, relaxing after a long and arduous trip out of town.
In truth, he was simply killing more time, following his script to the letter, patiently waiting for the selected time to bring his major personal crisis to a head. He'd had a month to work alone on the five stages of grief, and really, the only one to have been successfully dealt with was denial. Anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance were all in play at the moment. He hoped that over the course of the night he could make some progress on several of those remaining four stages.
It was after midnight, and Sunday was freshly minted, when he finally seemed satisfied with what his watch was telling him, and got up to return the empty beer bottle to the kitchen counter. While there he moved his dirty dishes to the dishwasher, before using a damp cloth to return the tabletop to a pristine condition. He knew as he did these minor chores that it was simply a form of delay, a way for his second thoughts and apprehensions to make him reconsider his chosen path. When no new solution to his problem presented itself, he went to the hall closet for a light jacket, and then began making his way to the side door, and the beginning of his nights' mission.
As his fingertips brushed the doorknob he suddenly yanked his hand back, snapped his fingers, and said, "Damn! I almost forgot." He hurried back into the living room, placed his briefcase on the coffee table, and then set his laptop upon the briefcase. In less than a minute he had turned on the laptop, logged himself in and had secured a connection to the Internet through the wireless router situated in the computer room he and Lisa maintained. Several minutes of typing and sending an e-mail completed the tasks that he had forgotten, and once he had logged off and shut down the laptop, he returned to the side door, confidently and unhurriedly leaving the house.
After spending about five minutes in his garage, he raised the garage door, backed out onto the street, turned on his headlights and slowly drove away as the garage door closed silently behind him.
It was 7:37 a.m. when the Sharpsburg 911 operator answered a new incoming call. "This is your 911 Emergency Operator. What is the nature of your emergency?"
A vaguely female voice, seemingly young, replied on an apparently poor telephone connection, "I ... I think I need the police. I think a crime has been committed."
The 911 operator coolly continued, "What is your location, ma'am? We need your location to send the police on the call."
"I'm ... I'm on Park Drive, the payphone on Park Drive beside George Washington Park." The word payphone immediately explained the poor connection to the operator.
"What kind of crime has been committed, ma'am? Have you been attacked or robbed?"
There was a slight delay before the young woman replied, "No, it's not me. I'm OK. It's just ... I just came from jogging through the park on the paved access road, the one that circles around to the picnic areas. There's a car there, beside one of the picnic sites. The doors are open, and the light is on inside it, and there's blood ... Lots of blood."
The 911 operator was now very interested in the call, and asked, "Will an ambulance be needed? Are there injured parties involved?"
"No, there's no one there that's injured. At least I didn't see anyone there. There's just the empty car and the blood." A few seconds passed before the woman continued, "I didn't look around too much. I was afraid that someone would be coming after me too, so I ran out here to the pay phone to call you."
"You did the right thing, I'm sure. A car has been dispatched and should be there in less than 10 minutes. Please wait for the officers so that you can tell them exactly where this car is situated."
The caller, sounding a bit anxious, replied, "No, I'm not going to wait around here. What if whoever did this comes after me? I'm going to go straight home." Her last words were followed by the click of the receiver as she hung up the phone.
The 911 operator looked helplessly at her screen as the blinking computer image of the caller's number disappeared as the phone was hung up. "Damn. I suppose this was just her idea of a joke. Oh well, hopefully I didn't take those officers away from anything more important than their coffee break."
It was almost 2 p.m. on that Sunday afternoon when Detective Peter Nesbitt suddenly sat up straightly in his seat as a car turned into the driveway at the Evans residence. He was already getting out of his unmarked car as the pretty, short haired, blond woman driving the car pulled up to a stop in front of the garage.
He was walking rapidly across the street as she got out of her car, and he quickly said, "Excuse me. I'm looking for Mrs. Evans."
She turned around as she removed an overnight case from the seat beside her and replied, "I'm Lisa Evans." She took a second look at the detective and continued, "Do I know you?"
"No ma'am. I'm Detective Peter Nesbitt of the Sharpsburg police. I'm here in regard to your husband, Mark Evans. We're in the process of trying to locate him with regard to finding his car abandoned in George Washington Park this morning." He quickly returned his photo ID and badge to his pocket.
Lisa Evans' face was momentarily overcome with grave concern, before it cleared and she said, "Mark is in Pittsburgh. He always leaves his car at the airport when he takes these trips, so I don't know how it could have been found in the park. You must be mistaken."
By this time Detective Nesbitt had reached her side, and he continued, "No, we're very certain it's his car. Both the license plate and the VIN correspond with his registration."
Her face now showed consternation, and she began walking slowly towards the side door of her home. "Well, if it's his car, then it must have been stolen from the airport. I don't know what else I can tell you."
The detective was quite persistent, and once again spoke up. "When was the last time you spoke with your husband? Would it be possible for you to call him now, so that we can verify he is really still in Pittsburgh? Does he have a cell phone you could call?"
Lisa Evans stopped abruptly and turned to face the detective. She placed her overnight bag on the ground beside her and dug in her purse for her cell phone. "He called me early yesterday afternoon from Pittsburgh. If it will make you happy, I'll call him right now." She pressed a set of numbers on her phone, anxious to show the detective that her husband hadn't been in the park.
A moment later, a cell phone began to ring in the detective's jacket pocket. He pulled it out, and brought it to his ear before saying, "Hello, Mrs. Evans."
The look of surprise on Lisa's face was quite genuine. In a moment, when the shock had subsided, she said, "Where did you get Mark's phone?"
The detective switched the phone off and began to put it into his jacket pocket again when she said, "You should give me my husband's phone. It must have been lost"
"I'm afraid I can't, Mrs. Evans. It's now evidence in a possible major crime. It was found on the floor of your husband's car."
Lisa was once again concerned, and asked, "A major crime? What do you mean?"
"Your husband's car was found early this morning in the middle of George Washington Park. The doors were open and there was a lot of blood and a bullet hole in the passenger's seat. There was more blood outside the car, and evidence that another bullet had been fired. We searched the park thoroughly, and didn't find anyone who could've been the victim of the violence noted. We really need to locate your husband so that we can rule him out as the victim or the perpetrator. Would it be possible for you to try calling him at his hotel in Pittsburgh?"
Lisa turned back to the house, picked up her overnight case and said, "Certainly; I can do that. I have the hotel's number in my address book. He always stays at the same Holiday Inn. I'm sure he must have forgotten his cell phone in the car, and that's why it was there when his car was stolen. Come inside with me and we'll get this taken care of immediately."
Detective Nisbett followed her into the kitchen and watched while she set her case and purse down, located the address book, and quickly began dialing the phone while absent mindedly looking across the hallway into the living room. He could clearly hear the hotel clerk saying, "Hello ... Hello," as he watched her place the handset back on the phone. As she hung it up she was turning to the detective, her face ashen, and quickly said, "Mark has been home! His briefcase and laptop are in the living room, on the coffee table ... I don't understand."
The detective had a pensive look on his face as he stepped back and took his own cell phone out of an inside pocket. He quickly dialed a number and said, "Hello, Dave; Pete here. I need you to get hold of the DA on call. I'd like a search warrant for the Evans residence. We're going to need to search this place to help us decide whether Mr. Evans is involved as a victim or potential suspect. Bring it up here to me as soon as you get it. I'll be waiting." He hung up and sat down across from Lisa.
"A search warrant? Why do you need that? You're welcome to look at anything you want; just ask. I want you to find my husband!"
Detective Nesbitt looked impassively at Lisa and said, "I want to do this by the book, ma'am. If I perform an illegal search, and your husband has been involved in anything illegal, anything I find may not be usable in court."
Lisa was a bit angry now and quickly replied, "Illegal? Mark is not involved in anything illegal. He works on computers, for God's sake."
"Well, something brought him back to town unexpectedly. Can you think of any reason why he would be here unexpectedly, and unknown to you, his wife?"
Lisa's face again lost its color, and she quietly muttered, "God no ... He can't ... Oh, no..." A somewhat panicked look had now taken over her face, and for a few seconds she was quiet, simply staring at the detective. Finally she said, "I have no idea why my husband came home early. I just know that he's not involved in anything illegal." Her look slowly became one of complete panic, and she continued, "Oh, God! Mark may be hurt, laying somewhere waiting for help. You've got to find him!"
Seeing how upset she had become, the compassionate side of Peter Nesbitt took over, and he now spoke with her in a much more gentle way. "We don't know anything for sure yet, Mrs. Evans. As a police officer I have to do things the proper way. At this point in time there's no proof your husband has done anything wrong, or that he is even involved in all of this. Why don't you make us some coffee while we wait for my partner to arrive with the warrant? There's nothing more we can do right now; all of our on-duty personnel are searching, or on the lookout, for your husband."
His sympathetic tone and comforting words seemed to help Lisa, as she began relaxing, and a bit of her natural color returned to her face. She got up and began preparing a pot of coffee for the two of them to share. Her calm state didn't last for long, though, as with his next sentence, Lisa once again became tense and nervous. All this occurred when he said, "Maybe while we're having coffee you can give me the details of how you spent the last 48 hours. Before this case is closed we're likely going to need statements from anyone even remotely involved."