When Officer Barrett finally entered the precinct, she checked in with the desk sergeant, who pointed over to where Bethany was sitting patiently, thinking about all the things she wanted to ask Adriel if she saw him again. Barrett approached her.
“Bethany Kendrick,” she said, extending a hand. “Thanks for coming in.”
Bethany took her hand and stood up. “Oh, not a problem. Thanks for coming in early to meet me.”
“Well, I had an interest in this, to be honest. Would you follow me?”
Officer Barrett led Bethany back through the doorway to the officer’s rooms, past busy desks, some occupied by busy police. Barrett grabbed a laptop off of a desk, unplugging the power chord before she continued onward past a door that said “Detectives” and down a hallway into an interview room. She gestured for Bethany to sit at the table and closed the door behind them.
“Copey – that’s my partner, Officer Cope, he’s not coming in ‘til later,” she said, “but he said I should go ahead and show this to you before we turn it over to detectives.” She moved next to her and set the laptop down where they could both look at it. She moved her finger across the mousepad and clicked on a video file. “This is a collection of videos taken from three video cameras near the park that night,” she said
“Detectives?” Bethany asked. “Why… are there detectives working on my case?”
“You do want to press charges against the creeps that assaulted you, right?”
Bethany hadn’t thought about that in a while. “Yes,” she said. “I mean, I should, right?”
Barrett looked at her. “Yes, you should. We still have the one guy in custody, and it won’t be long ‘til we pick up the other one. We don’t know his home address, but we know where he works part time and they’re gonna call us as soon as he walks in the door.”
“Really?” Bethany said. “So that’s it?”
“Yep,” Barrett nodded. “Their names are Robert Aleppo and Danny Cillizza, respectively. Both have priors for assault and attempted assault. However, we have very little evidence that shows they actually attacked you. Your fingernails came back without DNA, so we’re looking for video or any other witnesses.”
“Oh,” Bethany said. She didn’t know what to follow that with, but it didn’t seem to matter. Barrett continued.
“The reason I wanted you to come in was to show you the video. Now, we don’t have actual video of the assault, or the fight that landed Mr. Aleppo in the hospital, but we do have video of them grabbing you and pursuing you. In this sort of thing, video always makes the best witness, but any other witnesses would be a big help, and that brings us to your friend from the park.”
The video flickered, but not to the scene of the two scumbags harassing her. It was a shot of her sitting on a park bench. A tall man in a dark coat was standing near her. Adriel. The point of view seemed to be from the lamp post that had stood a few feet away from them. Surveillance society, Bethany thought, remembering all the times in college she had complained about Big Brother. She could see Adriel in profile, although his face looked a little distorted.
“What I wanted to ask you about was this fella,” Barrett said. She let the video play. It was a series of shots taken about seven seconds apart, so the movement was broken. Adriel standing there, looking at her with his head tilted. Then he was extending his hand, and she took his handkerchief. Then there was a jump in the tape, and for a moment, Adriel seemed to disappear, but then there he was, handing her his coat. Then she was standing up, putting his coat over her shoulders, and they were walking… She could see Adriel’s face under the light. His eyes were black. Barrett paused the video. Opening a screen shot, she zoomed in on Adriel’s face. The image was high-definition and clear enough that she could see the whites in her own eyes, but not in his.
“Now you said you didn’t know this guy,” Barrett said. “You thought his name was Aiden?”
Bethany nodded. “Yes, that’s right.” She wasn’t even sure that was the name she had given that night, but sure, why not? She was the victim here, so she didn’t think Officer Barrett would be trying to trap her.
“Do you remember him wearing contact lenses?”
Bethany thought about how his eyes had appeared to change more than once as they had walked. “I… I’m not sure,” she said.
“A guy jumps into a fight, beats a couple of would-be rapists off of you, and he’s got totally black eyes, and not from fighting. Seems like something you might remember,” Barrett said. “That’s a striking look.”
“Everything happened so fast.”
“Alright,” Barrett said. “Have a look at this.” With a few clicks, she opened another video, this one of Bethany and Adriel standing at the crosswalk. The image was even clearer than the last one. They spoke for a couple of frames, and then Adriel looked up, almost right at the camera. Again, his eyes were solid black. Even without zooming in, Bethany could see the difference in their eyes. Barrett went through the same procedure, opened a screenshot, zoomed in… Adriel’s face was plain as day, but his eyes were darker than night. They looked alien. Barrett looked from the screen to Bethany. Bethany just stared at the screen. Barrett jumped three more frames in the video, and Adriel was turning to walk away, but in this shot he looked almost transparent, except for something, a small object that appeared to be glowing brightly at his side. Then the camera image went wavy, and then it was just Bethany standing alone, looking across the street to where the police cruiser would have been.
“So,” Barrett said, “As you can see, we have a strange fella here. You sure there’s nothing else you can tell me about him?” Bethany looked at her but didn’t know what to say.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “I don’t remember anything unusual about his eyes. He just seemed like a nice guy. He was respectful.”
Barrett shrugged, “Well, that’s certainly no crime. It didn’t strike you as odd that he was okay to walk away and leave you with his nice coat?”
Bethany looked back at the screen, where she was still wearing Adriel’s coat. “I… I don’t know,” she said. “I was pretty shaken up. I didn’t even remember I had his coat, but that’s why I went after him, to return it.”
Officer Barrett studied her face, and for a moment, it reminded Bethany of the way Adriel could almost seem to be reading her thoughts by studying her facial twitches. “Well, that’s a helluva guy, I guess,” Barrett said, “Jumps in to defend a stranger in a park against two assailants in the middle of the night, and then lets her keep his coat.” She squinted at the screen, “What was that, cashmere?”
“How can you tell..,” Bethany almost started, but she caught herself and said, “No, it was wool, I think.”
“Wool,” Barrett said. “Well, still a pretty nice gift to give a stranger you just met.”
Bethany looked at Barrett. Barrett was waiting for her to say something, but she really had nothing to say. Bethany realized that actually, she really didn’t have anything to say. She really knew nothing at all about Adriel, except that he was staying near Highland Park and he had a lot of crazy ideas. Ideas that still made a lot of sense to her for some reason. Finally, she just shrugged again.
“I really don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “He didn’t really say much to me, he just asked if I was okay and if he could help me find the police, and then when we saw your cruiser, he wished me luck and left.”
“Yeah, see, that’s the thing,” Barrett said. “This guy must have known he could have backed up your story, made sure we were gonna look after you, but as soon as he sees police, he takes off. Kinda makes us wonder why he might not have wanted to talk to us.”
“Well, he said that he thought he might have really hurt one of those… the attackers, and he didn’t want to get in trouble or charged with assault or something.”
Barrett nodded. “I guess that makes sense,” she said. “Still, we’re pretty sure you’re telling the truth, and in that case, he did a very brave thing. He’s a hero.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Bethany said. “That’s kind of why I’d like to leave him out of this. He was so nice to me, I’d feel shitty if I pulled him into something he wanted to avoid.”
“Fair enough,” Barrett said. “Still, that thing with his eyes? Creepy.” She sat back, arms folded, staring at the image of Adriel on the screen. “Just the same, we’d like to talk to him. It would sure make prosecuting your would-be rapists a lot easier.”
“Well, you said you had video of them harassing me, following me,” Bethany said. “What about that?”
“Well, beyond that,” Barrett said, “All we really have is your side of the story, and one of the dudes checked into ER, which would seem to corroborate your side of things, but,” she sighed, “look, I hate this as much as anybody, but even a shitty lawyer will shoot this down, and those two creeps won’t see any jail time for this, not without evidence of the actual attack. His injuries could have been sustained any number of ways…”
“But they fit what I described,” Bethany said. “And he was in the hospital just a couple of hours later.”
“True,” the officer said, “But what about his buddy? We saw two men harassing you, only one shows up with injuries. When we pick up the other guy for questioning, he’ll probably be pretty banged up still, but they may have spoken to each other, worked out some story of their own.” She turned to face Bethany, and her voice got softer. “Look, Bethany… I feel for you more than you could know. But we both know how this is. Rape cases are hard to prosecute without substantial evidence. DNA, video of the assault. Without any other witnesses…,” she shrugged apologetically. Sincerely, but still a shrug. It just said it would be Bethany’s word against two witnesses. They had priors, they had been through this system before, hell they probably even knew which lawyer to call.
Bethany said what was being implied: “So this would be a waste of time.”
“And resources,” Barrett added. “But I don’t want to discourage you…” Bethany scoffed at that, but Barrett continued, “If you still want to pursue this, we’ll hand it all over to detectives, and they can do the footwork and try to get as much evidence as they can, and that would mean tracking down ol’ creepy dark-eyes-doesn’t-need-a-coat there.”
Bethany sighed. It was thanks to Adriel that she had come out of the whole thing unscathed, and the two assholes had been beaten up pretty badly. Maybe that would have to be enough. Either way, she didn’t want this to become a problem for Adriel, even if he was planning on leaving in the next several hours. She’d hate for him to get hauled in before he could do whatever it was he was planning. He’d been so nice, letting her sleep at his place, buying her new supplies, new clothes… she felt bad that the assholes wouldn’t be seeing the inside of a jail cell, but she would feel worse if she got Adriel into trouble after all he had done for her.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she finally said. “Let’s just drop it. You cops – sorry, is that okay to say?”
Officer Barrett smiled. “Yes, that’s perfectly fine,” she said. “After having to tell you all this, I’d be fine if you used a nastier term, in fact. I wish we could do more to help women like you. There really are so many.”
“I know,” Bethany said. “I’ve seen the posters at the shelter.”
Barrett seemed to be hurt by the fact that Bethany had been staying in a homeless shelter on top of being nearly raped. “Look,” she said, “I will personally make these two fucktards my personal business. If they walk away from this without so much as a summons, they might be emboldened. They’re obviously idiots, and they’ll fuck up again. And when they do, well, they have priors and they’re scumbags. Odds are they’ll go to prison at some point, probably sooner than later.”
Bethany took a deep breath and rubbed the palms of her hands on her thighs, the unspoken signal that someone was about to stand up. “Just not for this,” she said. “I just hope they get caught doing something stupid before they hurt another woman.”
Barrett reached over and took one of her hands, “So do I.” Bethany smiled at her, shook the hand she had been given, and stood up. Surprisingly, this little meeting had been a little more emotional for her than she had expected. Officer Barrett stood up as well, closed the laptop and said, “Well, you’re free to stay in the station as long as you need. Help yourself to coffee.”
“You can try, but if Copey sees you, he might shoot you.” They both shared a small, superficial laugh at this, just to say that this situation over her case wasn’t okay, but for now, it had to be. “Do you have a place to stay now?” Barrett asked her.
“Oh, yeah,” Bethany said. “I finally got in touch with a friend, and she’s letting me use her guestroom. We’ll see how it goes.”
Barrett smiled at her and touched her shoulder. “That’s good to hear. And if you ever need anything, even if it isn’t crime related, I’m usually here or someone can find me.”
“Thanks,” Bethany said. “I appreciate that.”
As Officer Barrett opened the door to the conference room, she said, “I was kind of hoping your story wasn’t completely true, that it had been you that had kicked those fucker’s asses.”
Bethany smiled down at her shoes. “No, that was all… creepy dark-eyes.”
“Mm,” Barrett said, “Well, if you see him again, tell him I said hey,” then she closed the door a little before Bethany could walk through. “It was weird,” she said, looking into Bethany’s face again. “His eyes, I mean. And the fact that he seems to disappear from a few frames in the video.”
Bethany shrugged. “Technical glitches, maybe.” Barrett smiled and opened the door wide. They walked out into the station room together, shook hands by Barrett’s desk, and Barrett said, “Seriously, though, if you do ever need anything, don’t be a stranger.”
“Thanks again,” Bethany said.
“Sure,” Barrett said, placing a guiding hand on Bethany’s shoulder. “You can pick up your bag at the front.”
And that was that. Case closed.
Or was it? After Bethany had left the station, Barrett sat at her desk, going over the video as she waited for her partner to come in for their shift. The rape aspect of the case might be over, but something about Mr. Creepy Dark-Eyes stuck with her. What was it Copey had said? Black-eyed peas? No, black-eyed kids. She opened up a web browser and typed the words into a search engine. A moment later, she was staring at creepy pictures of children with solid black eyes. From what she was reading, they were not a good thing to encounter.
Bethany had taken her old blue bag and hopped onto a bus downtown. She wondered if Adriel had returned to his house yet, and if it was too soon for her to go back. He had told her to be there by seven o’clock, but now it was just turning four. She felt bad about not being able to put two rapists behind bars, hopefully where they would experience what it felt like to have someone put their hands on you like that, but she also had a lot of questions for Adriel. Even the police had noticed his eyes. And why did he seem to flicker out of frame, or seem transparent? She figures it really could have been a technical issue with the video, but after all he had told her, now she was wondering what she might have gotten herself into.
The bus took her past the University of Pittsburgh campus, and she stared out at the lovely architecture of that part of the city. Where the Glass Building speaks to a modern fairy-tale sort of structure, this neighborhood was all gothic churches and the Cathedral of Learning, which had once been a monastery. “Built from the top down,” they say. She knew the architectural design was called ‘tubular bundling,’ and that the architect who came up with it had gotten the idea from a pack of cigarettes. When he tapped a few out, they held each other up. Now when she looked at the Cathedral, she could see the cigarette design. Must make it hard for some students here to quit smoking, having that subliminal image looming overhead all day. She looked out her side of the bus, at the sculpture of a brachiosaur standing outside the Pitt library, and the little multicolored triceratops under the trees nearby. There was another triceratops downtown by the Glass Building that was painted to look like a bottle of Heinz ketchup, she remembered. She vaguely wondered why there were so many dinosaur sculptures in Pittsburgh. As the bus passed the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, she saw there was even a large banner hanging by the entrance advertising a new dinosaur exhibit. When she read it, she nearly jumped out of her seat: Tracks of the Troodons.